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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Eating Local in the Wintertime

You can do it in a snowy state if you plan ahead.

“Has nobody in this bleeping town heard of a kale salad?” I wanted to scream.

That’s the anguish of a Californian convert transplanted to Wisconsin in the dead of winter.
As I remind anyone who tries to assure me that Madison is a lovely town and Wisconsin has gorgeous summers, I came back for grad school — not the weather.

I didn’t exactly come for the food, either.

Food-wise, the summers are glorious.

Madison’s Dane County Farmers’ Market is surely one of the best in the country. Table after table is heaped high with colorful veggies of every kind, including some I’d never heard of before. It was at this market that I discovered celeriac, baby turnips, and kohlrabi — now all favorites.

Then come the winters. And if you like to eat local, whether for environmental reasons or simply because you enjoy fresh food, it gets a little rough.

Fortunately, we locavores have other options besides hibernating. After a few months, and some brainstorming with people who are more accustomed to this climate, here’s what I’ve come up with.

The easiest foods to eat local in winter are those that can be stored, like meats, cheeses, and to some extent, eggs. (Believe it or not, eggs are a seasonal food too, as hens slow down or stop laying in the winter unless they’re supplemented with artificial light.)

If grains or beans are grown locally where you live, these can be stored easily too.

Yet I doubt many of us buy local wheat, let alone grind it into flour or bake it into bread ourselves. The most viable local grain option I can think of where I live is popcorn. It’s not exactly a dietary staple, but it’s something.

If you want to eat a more plant-based diet, or even if you just want a healthy variety of veggies, then that alone won’t work for you.

Some fruits and veggies are conveniently easy to store through the winter. Winter squashes, pumpkins, apples, and root vegetables fall in this category. That’s a start.

For the greatest variety of winter foods, you need to plan ahead. That means canning, pickling, freezing, fermenting, and dehydrating.

I’m no novice at these food storage techniques, but this year all I have to show for my labor are several quarts of sauerkraut, some dehydrated kale flakes, and a pint of fig jam. Not enough to last the winter.

Plan B: Buy these items from other people who got their act together last summer. If you’re fortunate enough to have stores that sell local items or a winter farmers’ market, you’re in business.

There’s still a serious dietary gap glaring us in the face, though. Where are the greens? We’ve come full circle back to that kale salad I’m craving. Do I just have to wait till spring?

The best option I can think of is growing your own sprouts. This is surprisingly easy to do with nothing more than a jar, a lid with holes in it, and some water — particularly for alfalfa sprouts. I find other varieties, like broccoli or radish sprouts, a little trickier. Sunflower, lentil, chickpea, and pea sprouts are also options.

You can’t build an entire menu out of sprouts, but at least you can spruce up a gloomy winter diet.
Winter locavorism is no easy task, but the reward of fresh food is worth it.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix