Lots of us food advocates — whether our concerns are primarily for local, seasonal, organic or otherwise sustainably-grown food — do not live in southern California (or Mexico, or South America). This means, we have a long, dark, cold winter through which we must struggle to find the foods we like, the food we believe in and care about. Sometimes we’re faced with tough choices at the grocery store in terms of what’s available and what has disappeared until next May.
This is kind of what my life is always like in Kansas. So I thought I’d share with you all some tips for how to keep yourself in whole, sustainable foods through the winter.
Look Into Winter Farm Options
Surprisingly to some, not all farms are dormant all winter. You may be surprised at what your region has to offer. Many places now have year-round indoor farmer’s markets, where farms with greenhouses can sell through the winter. Some of your buying clubs might have different winter offerings from other parts of the country. And some farms now even offer winter-share CSAs, that come in all shapes and sizes. My friends Ashley and Stephen joined a CSA this winter featuring locally-grown foods that have all been frozen for use during the winter months. When I visited them over New Year’s, I got to enjoy a delicious, fresh tomato sauce Stephen whipped up out of frozen tomatoes.
So just because the weather’s changing, don’t abandon your local producers. Ask around at the market during the last weeks, or get in touch with your producers and ask what they have to offer. Even if they don’t yet, if they can guarantee enough interest, they might be willing to start a winter share!
Ok, I know it’s a little late for this advice this year, but it’s always good to follow the Boy Scout motto and be prepared. Think about those July CSA pickups (or trips to your backyard garden) when you were just swimming in tomatoes. When you were sick of the sight of eggplant. Taking the time when you have excess to freeze, can or otherwise prepare those vegetables can get you a lot of the way through the winter.
You can, of course, simply freeze fresh veggies — I enjoyed some of my parents’ summer-garden green beans and corn while home over Christmas — but you can also make stuff with them. I have Mason jars of my mother’s applesauce, fresh tomato salsa and chutney, and pickles in my cabinets right now. And she’s got containers full of frozen tomato basil soup and corn chowder. Make big batches when the produce is plentiful, and store it away like a chipmunk — next year, anyway.
Learn to Love Winter-Available Produce
So maybe the only fresh tomatoes and strawberries you can get in January come from Argentina. But there are actually vegetables you can grow in more temperate climates year-round (at least, in a greenhouse) or that can be grown a bit more locally, or that your local farmers have stocked up since the late autumn. Just the other day I bought southern U.S. leeks and parsnips at the store. Lots of squashes are available into the colder months. Learning to cook with root vegetables honors the season — and sticks to your ribs. Hearty stews, slow-roasting casseroles and big crock-pots of chili will warm your bones.
Speaking of chili, along with winter produce, there are also lots of delicious, whole foods you can eat and store all year round that are great for you. Keeping your body full of omega-3s is really important in the winter, as they help combat depression. Legumes, flax seeds, local cage-free eggs, and wild-caught fatty fish like salmon or tuna (from your sustainable seafood buying club, if you’re lucky enough to have one!) can all keep you eating well, and keep your spirits high through the months of no strawberries.
Well, not strictly speaking. But the truth of it is, sometimes you have to make tough choices at the store. I have to do this most of the time — others are lucky enough to only have to in certain seasons. If the ideal produce is local, seasonal, organic, and grown on a small-scale biodynamic farm — shoot for as many of those adjectives as you can. We all have to decide which to prioritize for ourselves from an ethical perspective, but we will often have to make trade-offs.
For example, in the warmer months, my choices are usually between what I call “California organics” from the grocery store (these are Earthbound farms leafy greens, usually) or local, backyard producers who are almost definitely using some chemicals, selling at the market. So I get a little of both. I buy tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and other things I know I can wash well from the market, and get the leafy greens or speciality produce nobody is growing in Kansas organic from California via Dillon’s. It’s not perfect, but I’d rather have organic kale than no kale. On the other hand, I’d rather buy eggs from a local physics professor whose hens I can see than from a generic “free range” label from the store.
If your situation is a little different, my advice would be to first and foremost support the right market — whether that’s a CSA, farmer’s market, or co-op in your case. Stay out of the grocery store for as long and as much as you can. If that means buying less-than-certified organic, but you’re supporting a local producer you can know, I say go for it. If you can get organic at the co-op from California, that’s a worthwhile purchase, too.
The reality is, we all usually have to mix and match a little to get somewhere between ideal and available, and this is true all year round. Challenging yourself to stick to those standards through the winter can only make you truly appreciate the abundance of our land in the summer — and teach you to learn how to can.
What are your tips and tricks for eating whole, healthy food all year round? Leave a comment and share your advice!