How can I eat seasonally year-round if nothing is growing in my area?

December 2005

People always talk about eating locally or seasonally but I live in New England.  The growing season is always cut short by the winter weather.  How can I eat seasonally year-round if nothing is growing in my area?

New England winters…another storm is supposed to land this afternoon, right?  Anyhow, this is an excellent question.  Many of you may not know this but the Farm Aid office is located in Eastern Massachusetts, right outside of Boston.  So, we know all about winter in New England and, more importantly, what to eat during these short days.

It is true, if you want to try and eat locally, your choices change depending on the season and where you live.  Some regions of the country have year-round growing seasons.  Likewise, fruits like oranges and avocados don't grow in some places.  Living in New England, we will never be able to pick a fresh mango or eat local bananas.  If you are like me though, the fun is in the challenge.

Traditionally, winter foods in northern regions are based in root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips and onions.  However, most people, I think, are not aware of the variety of vegetables and flavors that can be found in this family.  Winter crops include beets, carrots, rutabagas, onions, leeks, pumpkins, squashes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips and celeriac which is a root that tastes much like celery.  Also, because of the recent attention given to heirloom varieties and regionally indigenous plants, there is huge variety within each of these kinds of veggies.  I have seen purple carrots and yellow beets on farms in New England - not to mention more kinds of squash than I can count on my fingers!

So what do you do with all this stuff?  These crops are all harvested in the fall, depending on how quickly the ground freezes.  If you are lucky enough to have a root cellar, basement or even a garage for storage, these tasty supplies will last quite a while.  Things like potatoes and carrots will actually last longer if you leave the dirt on.  Squash and pumpkins do better if you leave the stem in tact.  Onions need to breath so they need to be stored in shallow layers or mesh bags.  For the most part though, these kinds of veggies are easy keepers. 

If you have a sweet tooth, apples store very well in similar conditions.  The saying is true, though, one bad apple can turn the batch so make sure that your apples don't have any bruises or soft spots before hauling them down to the basement.  My sweet tooth craves diversity: summer fruits like peaches, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries freeze really well.  In fact, I spent most of my summers picking pounds and pounds of blueberries when I was little so our family could eat "fresh" fruits through the year.  I am pretty sure I was the only kid on the block who had wild blueberry pie for New Years!

So what do you do if you don't have adequate storage space?  Or if you missed the harvest season because you were really busy - say with a trip to Chicago for a Farm Aid concert.  There is still hope!  You may have heard of Community Supported Agriculture Programs (CSA) where you can buy a share of farm products for the duration of the growing season.  Well, in New England, and surely in other regions, many CSAs offer a Winter Share program.  A good friend of mine subscribes to the Drumlin Farm CSA Winter Share program in Lincoln, MA.  The farm has an expansive root cellar as well as a green house.  So, from November to February she gets weekly infusions of fresh local products like greenhouse spinach, lettuce, onions, carrots, potatoes, squash, celeriac, parsnips and beets.  Depending on the frosts, the farmer also supplies members with brussels sprouts, kale and collard greens.  This is a great option if there is a CSA farm in your area.

Now for the hard part: if you missed the harvest, don't have storage or access to a CSA farm, you have to tackle the grocery store.  You will have better luck finding local product if you go to a co-op or grocery store that has a wide variety, like heirloom breeds, organics or family farm branded foods.  If you can't find local, take a look at these food labels for some more general options.

Now, I could get into recipes for all these great winter foods but I think that is another column.  Good luck and keep me posted on your hunt for local roots and tasty winter treats!

Oh! Don't forget - you can probably find meats that were raised locally year round and properly packaged raw meats last up to a year in the freezer depending on the cuts.  I won't even start on cheese…oh and eggs…and milk…and…

Don't forget to email me with your food and farm questions -

How will the new trade deals being negotiated affect farmers? - April, 2014

A New Farm Economy Rises from Tobacco’s Ashes - August, 2014

10 Things the New Census of Agriculture Tells Us About Family Farmers and Our Food System - July 2014

How will the Keystone XL pipeline affect our farmers and farmland? - April, 2014

Parched: What the West shows us about our water future - March, 2014

What does Farm Aid do with the money that it raises at the annual concert? - October 2013

I live in New York and dairy farmers seem to be struggling. What can I do to help? - September 2013

I have heard horror stories about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this year. How can farmers better support our waterways? - July 2013

I finally got around to watching "Food, Inc." I was floored to see what poultry producers actually go through. Is this really what's behind the chicken on my plate? - May 2013

Why is it so difficult for farmers to find affordable farmland these days? - March 2013

The PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl was amazing – what a disaster of epic proportions and a reminder of how important the soil is to our lives! How do today’s farmers care for the soil? - November 2012

The other day, I came across "grassfed beef" in the supermarket. Aren't all beef cattle fed grass? If not, what do they eat? Is this something I should feed my family? - October 2012

How do I find a university that values family farmers and the Good Food Movement? - September 2012

I'm a big supporter of organic agriculture, but some of my friends say it isn't a practical way to feed the world. Is that true? - August 2012

How does someone with no experience get into farming? - August 2012

How is climate change affecting family farmers? What are they doing about it? - April 2012

Is the USDA truly supporting local and regional agriculture?  - March 2012

I'm concerned about the use of antibiotics in farm animals and would like to find antibiotic-free meat and poultry products. Any suggestions? - February 2012

How does the occupy movement relate to farmers? - January 2012

What can you tell me about family farm turkey? - November 2011

How will labeling genetically engineered food do anything for family farmers? - October 2011

Word is big cuts are in store for farmers in the upcoming Farm Bill. What is the Farm Bill and what will budget cuts mean for family farmers? - September 2011

I've been seeing a lot of farm plots spring up around the city. I didn't even realize people could farm in cities—how can I get involved in this! - August 2011

This year’s weather has been a nightmare and lots of farms in my area are struggling. What help is there available for farmers struck by disaster? - July 2011

I watched "Food, Inc." recently and was surprised by how animals were treated and meat was produced in America. This seems crazy to me. Why can’t we get meat from better sources? - June 2011

A lot of farmers in my area are leasing their land for hydraulic fracturing — is it good or bad? What do farmers say? - June 2011

What's a food hub? How can they help me? - April 2011

High farm prices are in the news — are farmers getting rich? - March 2011

I know the U.S. government just allowed a few new GE crops on the market — should I be worried? - February 2011

How can I find food from local farmers during the cold winter months? - January 2011

A year-in-review on corporate concentration in agriculture. - November 2010

Can you tell me about starting farm to school programs? I’m a farmer and I’d love to provide schools in my area with healthy food. - October 2010

No offense, but what has Farm Aid really done all these years aside from put on a good concert? - September 2010

I really want to get local meats, but they don't seem to be available. Why is that? - August 2010

Answering reader questions with our report, "Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems" - July 2010

I just read an article that anticipates 200 dairies will go under in my state by the end of 2010. Why are dairy farmers in so much trouble right now? - June 2010

How is credit affecting family farmers right now? - May 2010

What exactly is a family farm? How does it differ from a factory farm? - April 2010

What's up with food safety? Could new laws hurt family farmers? - March 2010

How can a food system that offers so much variety be constricting consumer choice? - February 2010

I keep hearing about "concentration" in farming. What does that mean and how does it affect me?  - January 2010

What’s Farm Aid’s grant program all about? Where does all the money go? - December 2009

Why are you thankful for family farmers? The Farm Aid staff responds. - November 2009

What are some ways people can get involved in farm activism? - October 2009

I've been seeing a lot of interest lately in seed saving. It seems like a lot of work, why bother? - September 2009

Are factory farms still a threat to America’s family farmers? - August 2009

Do you have any tips for how to fit a farmers market into my busy life? - July 2009

What’s the best way to get more farm fresh food into my child’s school cafeteria? - June 2009

How do I get involved in the dairy crisis at the grassroots level? - May 2009

How can we fix the food safety system without hurting family farmers? - April 2009

How exactly are GE crops regulated? And how can I be sure that I am protected? - March 2009

Dairy farmers are struggling for survival right now - why? - February 2009

Is there a reason why Farm Aid doesn’t grant more to individual farmers? - January 2009

How is the credit crisis affecting farmers and agriculture in America? - December 2008

What does the change in administration mean for family farmers? - November 2008

Where do John McCain and Barack Obama stand on agricultural issues? - October 2008

Does Farm Aid know of any programs that help young people start their own farm? - September 2008

Just how does Farm Aid decide where to host the show each year? - August 2008

Laura looks back on three years answering your questions - July 2008

I try to buy local and from family farmers whenever possible. Why is it so hard to find meat from area farmers? - June 2008

How do you decide who is and isn’t a family farmer? How many family farmers are there in the United States? - May 2008

I see raw milk from time to time at my local grocery, some folks say it’s good –others say its dangerous- what’s the deal? - April 2008

I seem to be spending more and more at the grocery store these days. Is it true that corn prices and ethanol are making my food cost more? - March 2008

I feel like I used to see a lot more in the news about GMOs. I haven’t managed to keep up to date and now I’m not really even sure what’s out there. Could you give me a little update on GMOs? - February 2008

What’s going on with the Farm Bill? Didn’t it pass recently? Is there anything good for family farmers in it? - January 2008

What do farmers do in the winter? - December 2007

What are you serving for Thanksgiving? - November 2007

How did Farm Aid replace the typical concert foods at Farm Aid 2007 and what were the criteria? - October 2007

What do Farm Aid folks do during the winter? - September 2007

Can you suggest some ways to drink locally or seasonally? - August 2007

Is it legal and humane to keep chickens in the city? - July 2007

Is it possible to compost in the city? - June 2007

Should everyone who wants to lessen their impact on the environment consider giving up meat? - May 2007

Can you suggest farm related activities for kids to do? - April 2007

Am I supporting family farmers when I purchase a product labeled organic? - March 2007

Can you help me simplify my food shopping in a way that still supports my values? - February 2007

What New Year's resolutions can I make that will support family farmers? - January 2007

How does Farm Aid help family farmers, where does the money go? - December 2006

How can I find a family farm turkey for Thanksgiving? - November 2006

Is it possible to shop locally on a budget? - October 2006

Why can't I get any of this "delicious food from family farmers" at the Farm Aid concert? - September 2006

Do you have any advice for developing classroom activities involving good food? - August 2006

Who are the farmers in the United States? - July 2006

What kind of work is Farm Aid doing with biodiesel? - June 2006

When will tomatoes be available in farmers markets? - May 2006

Are factory farm birds safer than outdoor birds? - April 2006

Could you tell me a little about the food in New Orleans today? Can you even get local foods in the city? - March 2006

What is biodynamic farming? - February 2006

Why do different companies promote different kinds of pasteurization for milk? - January 2006

How can I eat seasonally year-round if nothing is growing in my area? - December 2005

With all of the devastating elements that farmers have to face, who can help them when a disaster comes? - November 2005

Why is it so hard to find fresh, locally grown produce in my area of Staten Island, NY? - October 2005

What is a "family farm food system"? - June 2005

How can I find a farm near me? - May 2005

What does April on the farm mean in different states? - April 2005

Who are the corporate players in the meat industry? - March 2005

What questions can I ask my grocer? - February 2005

An Introduction to Ask Laura - January 2005

What is grass roots organizing? - August 2005

Where does school food come from? - July 2005