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Food

Farm-Fresh Food in the Dead of Winter

When winter arrives in the northeast, local farms are blanketed in snow and even some of the most conscious cooks’ attention shifts away from farmer’s market and into the sad acceptance that it’s nearly impossible to eat locally-sourced vegetables and fruits during these cold months. Folks look around at the snow and ice and then look at me, an organic farmer, and ask the inevitable question: What do farmers in the northeast do now? After I let them know that I’m on “summer vacation”, relaxing from growing their food, I let them in on the rarely-told story of the farmer in the winter, and how that story can help them eat locally year-round, supporting small, sustainable food businesses.

The winter is definitely a time for farmers to catch their breath, let their bodies recover from the physicality of the rest of the year, and read (I’m currently nose deep in “Atlas of Remote Islands”. It is also a time for farmers to get busy crop planning, scheduling the timing of plantings, determining how much of each crop to grow, ordering seeds and equipment, and hiring apprentices or farm labor for the coming season.

This next part is where you, the venerable food lover, come in. Many farmers are extending their seasons by running winter CSAs, growing winter-hardy vegetables like kale and collard greens inside greenhouses, and participating in indoor farmers’ markets. Winter CSAs usually feature root vegetables that are stored in a root cellar. These can include a variety of potatoes, beets and the lesser-known celeriac and black radish, greens like kale and collards, as well as winter squash. These vegetables are hearty and will sustain you through the winter. Winter farmer’s markets are slowly popping up around the country, the first of it’s kind opened in Boston this year. To find a winter farmers market near you, visit Local Harvest, an online database of farms, farmers markets and CSAs around the country. Even in snowbound areas like the northeast and the Midwest, farmers markets are still going strong.

The benefits of these winter outlets are twofold — they supply local food while providing year-round employment and income for farmers who often struggle economically, particularly in the winter. Both the seasonality of the work and the unequal playing field (no pun intended) on which small farmers have to compete make it difficult for them to make a living.

So, good cooks (and diners) of the northeast, do not despair. Local food may not be growing in abundance during the winter, but it’s definitely out there for you to find. Take a trip to your local winter farmers’ market now, or during the summer, when there is a seemingly endless stream of tomatoes and the winter is a distant chilly fear, sign up for a winter CSA. Next winter you may find yourself roasting a local rutabaga rather than buying one from California, helping small farmers breathe a little bit easier and making your table all the richer.

Ellie Lobovits has been farming for three years and most recently managed the 5-acre vegetable farm at Adamah. She is about to embark on her fourth growing season at a new farm in Northampton, MA.

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