Sourcing winter produce, how do we keep buying local this season?
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There are arguments for and against buying local produce, but whether or not you are an advocate, there is something deliciously visceral about a weekend farmers market. In the summer there are sights, smells and an infectious bustle that cannot exist beneath the stale lighting of the supermarket produce section.
In a 2010 USDA survey of winter markets, Michigan- with over thirty markets listed in the survey- placed in the top ten for volume. Despite this technical abundance it becomes less obvious where to source local food from as winter rolls around. That leisurely stroll down the Fulton Street Farmers market main aisle, looking for the perfect head of broccoli, becomes a distant summer dream, but our appetites don't disappear- so why do the markets?
The Fulton Street Farmers Market slows down in mid-December. Although there are renovations taking place to turn their site into a year round market location, debuting in May, they aren’t quite there yet. All other farmers markets in the city close down in October.
There are a couple of organic sellers who will deliver straight to your house, Doorganics (a local company) and Door to Door organics (a nationally-owned company). They both use local providers when possible, but tend to source their produce from California and elsewhere in the wintertime.
So where do we go this season to get our chestnuts, pumpkins, Rutabaga, Parsnips, meats, eggs or cheeses if we are not enthused by Family Fare’s meager selection? Sheri Rop of Nourish Organic Market on Wealthy Street shared what she considers the best bets for this winter.
Fulton Street Farmers Market runs a smaller market during the winter months. This year the market is located at The Salvation Army Fulton Heights Citadel (1235 East Fulton) on Saturdays. Farmers are there January – April from 10am – 1pm. Melissa Harrington, Market Manager explained that "While many people think that it is impossible to get fresh, local food during the winter, it is actually quite possible and delicious! The farmer vendors at our winter market have: apples, carrots, onions, potatoes, broccoli, many greens, beets, cabbage, squash, etc. One of our farmers will even have greenhouse tomatoes sometime in February!"
Nourish Organic Market at 634 Wealthy Street SE offers a selection of local vegetables, meats, cheeses and other local foods year round. Nourish sources its vegetables from Tantre Farm in Chelsea, Michigan. Rop said of their relationship with the farm, "Richard Andres, the farmer, has a strong interest in the root and leaf crops that are seasonal to this region and has a lot of experience growing and storing them. We've been getting kale, collards, kohlrabi, celeriac, turnips, carrots, spinach, parsnips, onions, winter squash and garlic from them."
Rop also explained, "In order to make this work for us we've started a 'CSA-style' program called Fresh For You. Members sign on for a 12 week stint and get a basket of vegetables every week. This enables us to also have the overflow from this supply in the store during the week." Sign up is available online.
West Michigan CO-OP is a website that provides a monthly online selection process with one night local pick up. This is a year round event that offers all types of local produce and products. Sign up is available here.
Mud Lake Farm, Hudsonville and Vertical Paradise, Rop says, "grow lettuce and greens in greenhouses throughout the winter. Mud Lake has a delivery program for home eaters as well as serving restaurants in the area and most of the winter [is also] offering produce at the West Michigan Co-op. Vertical Paradise doesn't sell directly but is available through some regular grocery retail locations in the area including Nourish." Sign up for Mud Lake’s Salads CSA is available online.
Rop stressed that she believes year round local produce supply is possible, but that the only way to do this is by "building up an interest in and commitment to local eating in winter, therefore getting more local farmers to develop the resources to grow and store winter vegetables." She added, "Currently no one in the immediate area is doing that on any scale that would make their produce available to the general public."
Farmer Richard Andres of Tantre Farms has a passion for winter produce. Andres believes that the key to successful winter vegetable supply lies in what makes "ecological sense" for Michigan. He emphasized "what is practical and what’s sustainable." For Andres, this is hardy root vegetables such as rutabaga, carrots, beets, celeriac root and other weather-hearty greens like kale. He says that he does have some hoop houses in which he cultivates spinach, but said the wintry winds will often wreak havoc with these crops. Constantly replacing plastic is not something he sees as ecologically sound or sensible. Andres spoke about focusing on what Michigan can do well, and he added that many of these nutrient rich root vegetables store fantastically well and could be a viable resource all winter long. Just to prove what delicious lunches or sides they can make, he sent along this recipe.
SHREDDED WINTER ROOT SALAD (A simple, easy salad!) Serves 4
2 medium beets, grated
3 large carrots, grated
1 small celeriac, peeled and grated
1 kohlrabi, peeled and grated
sesame or sunflower seeds, toasted
salt and pepper to taste
Grate vegetables into a bowl.
Toast sesame or sunflower seeds.
Add when cooled.
Add olive oil and lemon juice as a salad dressing to suit your taste. (But be careful of too much liquid.)
The tartness of the lemon should be prominent.
Serve immediately or marinate for a few hours in the refrigerator.
Variations: Add grated turnips, mint, basil, lettuce, parsley, etc.
I am sporadically productive- writing, painting and looking at the National Geographic website. Unfortunately though the majority of my spare time is desecrated by a compulsion to watch Malcolm in the Middle and eat original flavor Wheat Thins. This is my legacy and I have come to terms with it.