It’s getting easier to eat fresh, local produce long after gardens have been put to bed. Many farmers’ markets and CSA’s have extended their season into winter and early spring instead of closing down at the end of October. Green houses and hoop houses allow them to offer even more produce options. Restaurants also feature locally grown and produced food all year long.
Local produce choices depend on where you live, but in the northeast, farmers’ markets continue to sell root vegetables, onions, peppers, pumpkins, winter squash, kale and other hardy greens, apples, and cranberries. Additionally you can also find local organic meat and poultry, freshly caught seafood, homemade baked goods, local organic chocolates, fresh spice blends, maple syrup and more. Yum!
Most gardeners have already made and canned fresh tomato sauce, jellies and jams enabling them to eat the bounties from their harvest well into the winter, but with a basement or a root cellar and a freezer you can also stock up on vegetables, fruits, and herbs from the markets. Easily frozen or dried, you’ve got “fresh” herbs when your recipe calls for it.
So what’s so important about eating locally?
The average food travels 1500 miles from farm to plate, consuming large quantities of fossil fuels and generating major CO2 emissions. Produce is picked unripe, then gassed to ripen, or processed using preservatives or irradiation, losing important nutritional value. With locally grown food there is less chance for spoilage or contamination since it doesn’t travel great distances.
Local food is grown using organic or IPM (integrated pest management) farming practices, with little or no petroleum-based fertilizers or toxic pesticides. Picked at peak freshness, local produce is tastier and more nutritious.
Farmers’ markets support local farmers and the local economy. Because the farmer sells directly to the customer, he can eliminate the middleman and keep more of his profits. Farming is hard work and a precarious business. Their yield is totally weather-dependent and it’s important to help sustain them.
Farmers’ markets create a sense of community, a place where friends and neighbors can gather. They are a way for farmers and consumers to connect with each other, a rarity in this era. They also offer a venue for musicians and artists. In cold climates when hibernating sets in, this extension of summer is a welcome respite.
Check out the winter farmers’ market schedule in your town!