Ask Farm Aid | December 2, 2005

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 – asklaura@farmaid.org

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