By Kristie Snyder,
To some, the beat-up box on our kitchen table might appear to be filled with random, uninteresting, even unidentifiable vegetables. To us, though, it is a treasure chest—filled with golden and ruby-colored potatoes, shimmering onions, tiny, tender Brussels sprouts and other gems of the fall and winter harvest. This is the first installment of our winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share from Lodi’s Blue Heron Farm, and we’re excited about it. Since our summer CSA share came to an end, we’ve been waiting for this glorious box of local, organic, whole and fresh food, and we know it’s going to be delicious.
Eating local has many benefits, for the eater, the environment, the local economy—but many people think it’s just not possible in the winter. But even in wintery Ithaca, when the glut of summer veggies is long gone, and seemingly nothing green is in sight, it’s possible to eat a wide variety of local foods.
Blue Heron’s Robin Ostfeld and Lou Johns started offering a winter vegetable share in 1997. “We’d never heard of a winter CSA,” Ostfeld said, but “right from the start, there was a lot of interest.” They started with 30 shares that year, and now offer 120. “It’s kind of crazy,” Ostfeld admitted. “It’s a lot of vegetables.” Most of the veggies are stored in facilities that create the temperature and humidity conditions each type of crop needs, and some, like kale and spinach, are grown through the winter.
“It wastes so much energy to rely on food that’s grown 3,000 miles away, when there are perfectly adequate resources to grow food within 30 miles of pretty much any city,” she noted. “And the flavor is [in] a whole other realm… it tastes so much better.”
Trumansburg’s Sweet Land Farm also offers a winter CSA (and still has shares to sell). Last year’s was the first season for the farm, and owners Paul Martin and Evangeline Sarat decided to offer winter shares right from the beginning in order to spread income out over the year and stay connected with their members year-round. “Eating from the winter share is fun,” said Martin, who noted that many vegetables actually taste better when grown or stored in cold weather.
Local storage and freshly-grown crops can also be found in GreenStar’s produce department throughout most of the winter, depending on supply and demand. Through most of early winter, organic root vegetables from Blue Heron, organic squash from Stick and Stone and conventional New York-state apples and onions were available. As of early February, potatoes from Candor’s Starflower Farm are still available. Finger Lakes Fresh hydroponically-grown salad greens and basil are available year-round.
Stick and Stone Farm sells some storage crops in bulk directly to consumers, and there are no doubt other growers around with produce to sell in the winter months. GreenLeaf’s classified page and the GreenStar bulletin board both have had notices for locally-grown food for sale recently, and my husband spotted an ad in the Ithaca Times for local winter squash. (We promptly bought a bushel.)
Local grains and beans are now easy to come by year-round, thanks to Erick Smith and Dan Lathwell of Cayuga Pure Organics (CPO), based in Brooktondale. GreenStar’s bulk department carries CPO’s organic black, pinto, navy, pink and small red chili beans and organic hard red spring wheat berries. Organic whole oat groats should be available soon. CPO also sells directly to customers, in bulk quantities, and supplies about half a dozen local restaurants, including Viva Cantina and Taqueria, their biggest customer. Bulk Department Manager Joe Damiano noted that many beans sold in the US are grown in China, despite the bean being a plant native to the Americas. “When I think of beans,” he said, “I think of the Americas!”
GreenStar’s bulk department also stocks organic soybeans and dried cayenne chili peppers from Finger Lakes Organics, popcorn from Finger Lakes Popcorn, and organic buckwheat groats and kasha (toasted buckwheat) from Birkett Mills in Penn Yan. (GreenStar’s warehouse has allowed Damiano to bring in the Birkett Mills products, which can only be ordered in large quantities.) Bulk also carries local honey from Joe Rowland and organic maple syrup from Lou Ward. (Both honey and maple syrup can also be produced effectively on a home scale.)
In the Grocery department, local winter offerings consist mainly of dairy and meat products. A slew of local dairies supply GreenStar with milk, goatmilk, yogurt, butter and cream year-round, including Meadow Creek Farm, Hillcrest Dairy and Side Hill Acres. These dairies also supply the Deli department with cheese, in addition to Lively Run Goat Dairy, Sunset View Creamery, and Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery, which produces raw milk kefir cheese. Local egg suppliers include Meadow Creek, Scenic Sunrise Farm, Westwind Farms and Kingbird Farm (see this issue for a story from Kingbird’s Karma Glos). Local organic beef from Englebert Farms in Nichols, NY has been available in the store since May.
Ithaca Soy’s tofu and tofu-kan, locally made with locally grown soybeans, are yet more local foods available at GreenStar in winter.
Many gardeners eat local food year-round—that is, food grown in the summer and canned, frozen or dried. Of course, fresh vegetables are tastier and healthier—and you can grow them and eat them, even in winter. Author Eliot Coleman describes his method for growing fresh veggies year-round at his home in Maine in his book Four Season Harvest. Coleman realized that his garden received about the same amount of winter sunlight as southern France (sound crazy? Check out a world map—most of the continental US lies south of France), and that many crops traditionally grown there year-round would fare quite well with minimal protection from the cold. In Coleman’s garden this protection takes the form of a simple, unheated hoophouse (a tunnel covered with translucent plastic) or coldframe, or in some cases, both (a coldframe within a hoophouse). Coleman describes the harvest from his winter gardens as “a season of continuous delight for the table as well as for the soul.”
His book details dozens of vegetables, some familiar, some not, that can be grown through the depths of winter, or grown into late fall and stored in the ground. Greens that can be harvested straight through winter, with the minimal protection described above, include arugula, mizuna, spinach and mâche, all well-adapted to cold temperatures. Other vegetables that grow well in an unheated hoophouse or cold frame include scallions, parsley, carrots, broccoli, leeks and radishes. Crops that can be stored long into winter include nearly all root vegetables, cabbage, onions, garlic, winter squash and apples.
Even if you don’t have the space or inclination to grow or store anything at all, the wealth of local food options can still provide a bounty of fresh food throughout the winter. It is delicious, and you can feel good knowing it didn’t get trucked (or flown!) thousands of miles and that you’re supporting the local economy (maybe even your neighbors). As Sweet Land Farm’s Paul Martin said, “supporting your local food systems is an investment in your food and local farmland for today and tomorrow.”
New in Grocery
Sweeten up your holidays with our help — we've got every kind of treat you can imagine, along with holiday feasting foods!
Just when you thought you were safely beyond the Thanksgiving madness, the December holidays blow in on a gust of cold wind. Get ready for holiday fare, round 2! For Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or whatever you've got, we've got chocolates, candies, gummies, popcorn, candy canes, gingerbread houses, and gluten-free dipped pretzels. For those who take time to bake, we carry ingredients for pies, holiday cookies, and all manner of special treats. Did I start with dessert? You'll certainly also find in our aisles the fixin's for another giant feast with all your favorite holiday sides and main dishes. This is your last chance for cheating on your diet, snacking between snacks, and allowing yourself just one more cookie before the fasting and cleansing promises are made for New Year's! Make the most of it! Did I mention both vegan and dairy egg nog?