Just a few short weeks ago there were still green beans, tomatoes and peppers in our gardens. As we hunker down and prepare ourselves and our gardens for the winter season (sigh) those sunny summer days full of strawberries and fresh salads can seem like a lifetime ago… Unless you preserved some of that summer flavor while it was in season.
If you grow your own strawberries or visited a pick-your-own farm you likely have some of that summer flavor stashed away in either your freezer or a jar of jam. And those delicious summer flavors in the depths of winter are just one reason to eat more local.
Eating local is healthier for you and the environment. As a rule, the fresher the food, the better it is for you. Food loses around 30% of its nutritional value within three days of harvest. Much of the food that is shipped to stores spends much longer than a few days in transport. And then there’s what transporting does to the climate. The closer the food comes from, the better for the economy as well. Studies consistently show that roughly three times the amount of money spent on local food at a farmers market stays in the community compared to money spent on packaged processed foods.
So how do we eat local when the ground is frozen for months at a time?
I focus on three basic ideas to weave together my local food eating throughout the year:
Grow Your Own, Know Your Farmer, and Preserve Fresh Food.
And let’s not forget the farmers that work hard year-round to produce local meats and dairy products. There are also local family run grain farms that supply local flour mills.
Eating with the seasons is a great way to start eating more local foods. But winter in Minnesota usually puts an abrupt end to that joy. There are a few pioneering Minnesota farmers that are using Passive Solar, and Deep Winter Greenhouses to grow produce year-round. Growing a few salad greens or microgreens under a grow light is another way to eat fresh through winter.
But for most of us, eating local will look more like choosing locally grown food (either from a garden or a farmers market) while it is in season and preserving it- either by freezing, dehydrating, fermenting or canning. Every meal of locally grown food makes a huge difference. Even into November many farmers have winter storage crops available like potatoes, winter squash, rutabaga, radishes, onions, garlic and dried beans.
And I’m thrilled to bring together some of the best local farmers and craft food makers for the 5th annual White Bear Lake Winter Farmers Markets this year. The three monthly markets will run 10 a.m.-2 p.m., November 13, December 11 and January 8. We’ll be gathering in front of Tamarack Nature Center to celebrate the best of local food into our winters. For more information on the markets, visit forksinthedirt.com/wblwinterfarmersmarket.
Remember, we get to vote for what kind of food system we want three times a day!
Michelle Bruhn is a gardener, educator, local food advocate, and founder of Forks in the Dirt.