September 3, 2012

How to eat locally in winter?

I once planted a row of carrots. It was only a short row. They sprouted and grew beautiful green tops that smelled wonderfully of earth and promise. I tended them as well as I knew how. As harvest came closer, I started having visions of carrot and shaved almond salads, carrot and tofu scramble, carrot cake, and other orange-coloured delicacies. It was with the greatest anticipation that I went out on the appointed day and dug up my carrots.

My harvest was one pinky-sized carrot.

To this day, I'm still in the dark about what went wrong, exactly. As I am in the dark about what went wrong with all my other vegetable gardening experiments. I mention carrots because it is one of those cold weather crops that I could plant right now and harvest in November (perhaps with a bit of protection).

I'm thinking about it because this week the Reduced Footprints blog, on its Change The World Wednesday block, features my challenge to make a plan to keep eating locally even in winter time when CSA farms and farmers' markets tend to close down. The challenge arose from my ruminations after writing a post on "Freeing our Food from Fossil Fuels". Eating locally is an obvious part of the solution, and in summer it is easy. But what to do in the winter months?

Initially I was glad that the challenge was featured in Reduced Footprints' blog now, in August, now that there is still time to prepare a garden bed and sow seeds for cabbages, carrots, brussels sprouts, kale, and other cold-hardy crops.

Then I remembered about my carrot.

Time to admit that I've no talents that are useful in the backyard. There goes my zero-foodmiles ambition. But there must be other things that I can do. I'm already passing up on crops that come from the other hemisphere, like raspberries sent to American grocery shelves from Argentina. I've been cutting back on Thai mangoes and such.

So here is my bid for eating locally, at least as locally as I reasonably can, for this winter:

Freeze the summer bounty
My CSA share is giving me huge quantities of vegetables right now, and I freeze what we can't eat immediately. Nothing like breaking open the sunshine tucked into the home-made pasta sauce, in January! At the end of the season, "my" farmer invites all the CSA members to help clean out the fields (and donate part to a local food bank). That party is good for up to 40lbs of broccoli, kale, cabbage, and yes, carrots, and other crops that can be kept for a long time. Still, my freezer is not large enough to contain our food for the entire winter.

Winter CSA
I'm going to ask my CSA farmer, who has been mumbling about extending a winter farm share, whether he plans to start this year. If he wants to run a pilot, I'd sign up for that.

Farm market
I'm keeping my ears open for a winter opening of the local farm market, which has many organic stands. Another farm market stays open throughout the winter, albeit with reduced hours, but most of their stands don't offer organic produce. I'd have to think about that.

Buy local from the store
I'm going to research what crops are grown locally in wintertime (or stored from the fall harvest) and buy those from the neighbourhood health food store (who tend to offer local crops anyway, and label them as such). And yes, this means field-grown produce, nothing out of a greenhouse.

Here is an added benefit: with any of these approaches, I can get my produce without cellophane, plastic bags, styrofoam or other packaging. Because I'm also working to reduce my household waste, and trying to get away from everything plastic.

This means that I will be learning how to cook with what the land around me offers. (For me, "around" means within 150 miles or so, the distance "my" milk farmer travels to deliver his dairy products). It should be possible to find ways to serve cabbage three times a week without incurring a dinner-table revolution; after all, cabbage is the winter staple in a large number of cultures.

One last thing: I am determined not to sweat this. For this first winter, I will be mindful, and I will do what I can to source the bulk of my produce locally, but I'm not going to get uptight about it. I can't: I'm still learning how to cook gluten-free and now also largely meat-free. I'll still serve buckwheat, rice and other grains grown far away. I'll still buy oranges and grapefruits from far away. I'll still put cumin, cinnamon and sea salt into the cabbage soup. This is a first step, and hopefully I'll learn enough this winter to take further steps next winter.



  1. I just love this challenge and thank you, so much, for suggesting it. I thought that running it now would be ideal with the end of the harvest season approaching ... but in reality, I wish I would have posted it in spring so that we could have prepared. What this challenge has done for me is really push me to consider ways of preserving food ... perhaps in small batches to accommodate my apartment's limitations. It's not something I've done before. It's also encouraged me to try, once again, to plant winter veggies. I haven't had much luck with them but ... I'm going to try again. I've been reading the Farmer's Almanac so perhaps I've learned something more which will help me be successful. Your attitude is so great ... sometimes we can't do it all but we can do a little. And to me, that's what it's all about ... constantly improving and moving forward. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! :-)

    1. The Farmer's Almanac! That is so beyond me.... I do think your timing for the challenge is right, for those with greener thumbs than mine. And come next spring you could pose the twin challenge of putting up what we can from the summer bounty. I suspect the whole process will be a long learning curve with many iterations & many adventures.

      Thanks for fielding the challenge!

    2. That's a great idea, CelloMom ... I think I will re-run it in the spring. And you're so right ... I think it will take awhile for this challenge to become part of our lives. :-)

  2. I hear you! No point sweating things if you can't buy local 100% of the time as it sounds like you've made a couple of big changes recently what with the gluten-free cooking. But I think you've got a solid base here from which to grow your efforts as the years go by.

    1. Thanks for your supportive words, Green Steve! I want to avoid going at it too hard, getting disappointed, and giving up. After all, I'm in it for the long term.

      Speaking of which, I talked to "my" CSA farmer's wife (who is the farm manager) about a winter share, and she says they're actively looking into it this winter and may have a pilot by next winter! She seemed pleased that someone took the trouble to tell her that a member also thinks it's a good idea. Made my day.

  3. Great post with useful suggestions! This year will be my first year shopping for myself (the past 2 years I was eating dining hall food, and before that I lived at home with my parents), so it's up to me to choose whether I eat locally or not. I will definitely keep these suggestions in mind as I plan for the year. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Green Gal, and good luck on your new adventure! When I was a student I had a cooking partner - she was great company, and we kept each other on track about the healthy cooking :-)


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