5 ways to eat locally after the frost
Give local produce a chance this winter
There comes a time each year when things stop growing and they start dying. The tree foliage gives us a beautiful show of yellow, red and orange, then brown, and then nothing. For many, this fading out of the natural world marks a time when our view of food choices seem to shift from effortless excitement for locally produced vegetables to confusion and apathy. Some of Madison’s local food enthusiasts take an off-season and head to the produce department to pick up tomatoes, lettuce and broccoli trucked in from California and Mexico. But the cool thing about the farms we love in the spring, summer and fall is that most of them have storage produce tucked away in coolers to keep us well fed and interested all winter long. And some even grow crops through the winter.
There are several ways to keep eating locally all winter long, and once you see how easy (and delicious) it is, the appeal of summer favorites in the middle of winter will diminish like the waning daylight hours.
Sign up for a winter CSA share
The most direct way to get access to a wide variety of winter storage vegetables is through a Winter CSA program. Many of CSA farms that serve the Madison area also offer late season deliveries. As with CSA shares during the “growing season,” eaters are at the mercy of the farmer in terms of assortment. Many CSA members feel that having a broad range of winter vegetables pushes them to be creative.
“Winter eating through the CSA keeps local people eating local longer, it’s the true test of the strength of our local food system that winter eating is so welcomed and supported,” says Elisabeth Minich of Kings Hill Farm in Mineral Point. “It also helps to reduce the winter gap in income that farmers face between the main growing seasons.”
The contents of a winter CSA share is made up mostly of items that will store easily in a basement, pantry or cupboard, including onions, garlic, potatoes and winter squash. Some farms continue to harvest winter greens like kale, Brussels sprouts and collard greens, which keep in a refrigerator drawer for weeks. Not only will you have hearty vegetables on hand for several months, you will support your community of farmers. For a complete list of CSA farms that offer winter shares, FairShare CSA Coalition is a great resource: CSACoaltion.org
Visit your local grocery stores
Many local farmers that sell to Madison area grocery stores make deliveries all winter. While fields are out of production for the year, farms rely on wholesale accounts to bolster them through the winter months. “We have a large crew in the summertime that allows us to grow and harvest root crops and other storage crops in large quantities,” says Cassie Nolterwyss of Crossroads Community Farm in Cross Plains. “Winter sales allow us to maintain our relationships with our customers and have more consistent income throughout the year. We enjoy going out to the pack shed in the middle of winter and still getting to work with beautiful vegetables, knowing that we are providing food for our community throughout the year.”
When you’re shopping at the Willy Street Co-op, Whole Foods Market or one of numerous neighborhood markets and coops around Madison, take a look at where the items were produced and choose local when you have the option. This is a vote for a strong local food economy and most often, superior quality.
Don’t miss the winter farmers’ market
Madison is known for its farmers’ markets. The Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square is the largest producer-only market in the country. The festival vibe goes indoors when the weather gets chilly, so the weekly shopping trips don’t need to stop. With the growers on site to help show you the difference between rutabaga and celeriac and chat about the past growing season, picking up familiar vegetables and trying new ones can be an exciting experience.
Winter market farmer Kyle Thom of Roots Down Community Farm in Milton has fun teaching customers about his produce while keeping financial stability through the low season, “People are always amazed at how long an onion or squash can keep. Also, keeping that revenue coming in even though it’s slower in the winter is nice,” Thom says. In addition to storage vegetables, you can also find fresh greens at the winter markets. Several farmers grow spinach and microgreens in covered structures all winter, which is an amazing way to brighten the palate of even the most seasoned locavore. Information about the Holiday Market at the Monona Terrace and the Late Winter Market at Madison Senior Center can be found here: Dane County Farmer’s Market
Eat at restaurants that source locally
The Madison dining scene is special. We have an abundance of amazing restaurants and chefs knocking it out of the park in a wide range of prices and cooking styles. Many of our restaurants keep local food on the menu year-round, and this commitment to their network of farmers is at the core of these businesses. Ben Hunter, a partner in the Underground Food Collective, sees local sourcing as simple and direct. “Buying locally for us is just because of a straightforward commitment to buying something from someone we know and from somewhere we have been in favor of anything else. It feels right to us and it’s enriched our lives,” he says.
Tory Miller, executive chef and co-owner of L’Etoile, Graze, Estrellón and Sujeo, finds value in staying as close to the source as possible–not only for the connections he has made with farmers, but also for the culinary superiority of locally grown produce. “The biggest thing about locally sourcing for me as a chef is the relationships,” he says. “The connections you make with your farmers and producers that allow you to forge a relationship with your food, beyond just ingredients. This is a connection that chefs pass on to their cooks, their servers and their guests. Plus, local food tastes better.”
As more restaurants commit to partnering with local farms, we will likely see the farm-to-table concept become the new normal. Mike Lind of Driftless Organics in Soldiers Grove echoes the ideas of Hunter and Miller.
“In a way, I liken selling vegetables to chefs to an art supply store selling paints to an artist. I love knowing that something that we have already put so much love and care into will be used as an ingredient in someone else’s creative process; and then knowing that that creation will be enjoyed by a whole host of people. It makes me feel like we are a part of something very important and magical,” Lind says.
Get inspired to cook at home
If you’re in the Madison area, sourcing locally produced vegetables is easy with the numerous avenues of accessibility. Farmers make it easy to get produce into your kitchen, but what if you’re not sure what to do with your bounty? Many farmers have recipe tools on their websites with vegetable storage instructions. Madison is as equally rich in local food bloggers and recipe resources as it is in year-round vegetable access. In addition to growing vegetables for her CSA program and wholesale accounts, Lauren Rudersdorf of Raleigh’s Hillside Farm in Brodhead, is also a recipe creator and blogger. “Ever since my husband and I began farming in 2013, we have attempted to eat and cook with as much of our produce throughout the winter as possible. I love looking in my pantry, freezer and basement and finding abundant local vegetables year round. It’s a bit of a challenge, but I find inspiration in the limitations. And I love that I know exactly what I’m getting. Flavors are consistent and there’s no fear that the things I purchase may be out of season, under ripe or unpalatable,” she says. You can find Lauren’s winter creations on her blog, The Leek and the Carrot.
In kitchens around the Madison area, people are putting local food on the table and savoring the process. Megan Costello, a 5-year CSA member of Vermont Valley Community Farm in Blue Mounds uses winter vegetables to get through the coldest months. “I’m a Wisconsin native, yet I still can’t believe how dark and cold our winters are. But, eating and cooking local food is a great way to remember the growing season and the people who make it happen. It’s also a fantastic way to cook with vegetables I never grew up eating: celeriac, daikon radishes, rutabagas–where have these guys been all of my life? Whoever said August was the best time to prepare and eat local food never really gave Wisconsin winter a chance,” Costello says.
Jonnah Mellenthin Perkins is a manager at Vermont Valley Community Farm, a trail runner, a freelance writer and the blogger behind The Ultra Farmer.
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