Here, last weekend marked the final Farmer’s Market of the year. While it’s a bittersweet passing of time for growers — the loss of convenient, weekly contact with customers is never a welcome thing, but the late fall and winter downtime that is a result of a lightened market schedule is imperative in the planning of the next year’s crop — it’s mostly just bitter for shoppers. Especially those new to eating local and those who are not accustomed to stocking up. Many will have few choices other than to turn back to their local chain supermarket to feed their families.
Last year in On Year-Round Appreciation, I briefly grazed the topic of keeping in touch with your local growers year round, and the advice there is still relevant and useful to this day, but if you’re committed to eating local even in the off-season you may need to dig deeper. The end of organized markets doesn’t necessarily mean the end of local food, but you may have to do a bit more homework to find it. And even if your local Farmer’s Markets are still open, doing your homework may yield you better sources of local food than you had before.
Most locales are still supporting some growth, though the variety will be less impressive than it has been. If your markets are still open be on the look out for those early spring vegetables that are making a comeback for a second season this year. Greens are huge — spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, collards — as are fast growing root crops. Think: radishes. Also keep your eyes peeled for long-season crops that are just now ripe, such as leeks, egg plant and winter squashes, as well as those crops that store well for winter like potatoes, onions and garlic. Those that store well can be stocked up on now, and eaten throughout the coming cold months. Just be sure to ask the grower to make sure the variety they’re selling is one that stores well; not all do.
While you’re out there also ask the vendors you frequent whether or not they’ll have limited crops available during the time when the market is no longer operational. You may be able to pick up local food on-farm all winter. If your market, like mine, has already closed for the winter search Local Harvest for growers near you and get on the phone to line up sources of your favorites for the whole winter season.
Of course the transition to the non-growing season also means a transition to those foods that have no season. Meats, soft dairy and hard cheeses can be produced and harvested year round and are excellent staples for hearty, warming winter meals. Canned products, if you didn’t can your own during the months of summer bounty, are also something you may want to be on the lookout for as December approaches. Think outside the box and even a simple jar of jam can go a long way. Raspberry, spread atop a pasture-raised pork loin is to die for.
However you choose to round out your winter pantry this November, happy local shopping!