Local Food in Winter

local food in winter

It’s easy to eat local during the summer. There are markets everywhere, and fresh produce is available from farms, markets, and roadside stands. But to eat local food in winter, you have to do some planning.

Why We Should be Eating Local Food in Winter

Eating local food in winter limits your choices, but it is the best way to ensure you are getting nutritious food grown and sold in a sustainable way.

Supporting your local farms during the winter is important. This is their livelihood, so they need customers. Keeping them in business means they’ll be there again in spring and summer, when most customers want to buy their food.

Your meat and dairy farmers, your cottage food businesses, and your winter produce growing farms need customers to continue to offer their products. Their food is fresher, often better than organic, and is more environmentally friendly.

Selling local meat and dairy means you have animals to feed all year long. These farmers aren’t raising animals in CAFOs, they are feeding them premium feed and allowing them to have a good life. A meat farmer can freeze his meat for later sale, but a dairy farmer cannot do the same.

If you want fresh produce for eating locally in winter, supporting microgreen farmers, greenhouse growers, and farms that grow long keeping vegetables is important.

You don’t have to go to the winter farmers markets, if you’ve planned accordingly and have the space to support storing food. You can choose to buy frozen meats and long keeping vegetables in bulk in the fall so you can store them yourself.

Dairy can be purchased in larger quantities and made into yogurt or cheese to keep it longer. Winter markets can be farther away, so plan ahead if dairy is important to you.

The more you go to winter markets, the more demand there will be for them. It’s hard work being a farmer, and they appreciate your business throughout the year. More customers means more local food for all.

Local Food in Winter with Pantry Management

When eating local food in winter, if you choose to store things yourself, you have a lot of options. Both ancient and modern preservation techniques means you can eat the best food all winter long.

Root cellars are one of those ancient technologies. At their heart, they offer cold storage, humidity, and ventilation to help store local food in winter. You may not have a root cellar, but there may be a place at your home that offers better conditions for storing foods.

Choosing the right long keeper foods, like root vegetables and winter squashes, can offer long term nutrition of fresh foods all winter. Learning how to store each food and learning how best to prepare them can help.

Look around your house and your yard. Is there a good place to store root cellar foods? In Maryland, our weather is often fairly mild. Could a shed and insulation work?

At the winter markets, you’ll see those long keeping vegetables. If you can’t visit the markets regularly because of distance or weather conditions, you may be able to buy more vegetables and store them longer at home.

You may also choose to ferment your foods, or dry them. They won’t be like fresh, but those old methods of preserving food definitely have a place in the modern kitchen.

Fermenting will offer additional nutrition to your meals. Whether you make loads of sauerkraut or try out cheese making, fermenting will make your foods last longer.

Drying foods can be done with your oven or an electric or solar dehydrator. It’s humid in Maryland, so drying outside without a dehydrator might be difficult. Dried meats, fruits, and vegetables can all be used in meals or as snacks.

Finally, canning is a modern way to preserve lots of foods. You can pressure can vegetables and meats, or you can stick with water bath canning and make sure your foods are acidified enough for long term storage.

Water bath canning can be a great way to store tomatoes, fruits, sauces and pickled vegetables. They keep on your dark shelf for a year or more without any electricity. You can eat local food in winter that was grown in the summer this way.

Freezers, another modern technology, depend on electricity but can preserve meats easily for later. You can use a standalone freezer for meats, fruits and vegetables. You can also prep ingredients or whole meals for later eating on a busy day.

When storing your local food in winter, having a plan in place is key. Whether your plan is to simply visit the markets weekly, or to store as much garden produce as possible, knowing your eating habits and preferences is important.

Knowing what you like to eat is a good place to start. Figure out what you need to make those meals and start planning on storing what you need. Learn a new preservation technique. Make some sauerkraut or learn to water bath can.

Make a list of meals you cook regularly, so you can figure out which ingredients you need to buy regularly. Storing those will help, as will figuring out how you can substitute seasonal ingredients in your recipes.

Keep a list of what you have on hand so you can plan meals from it. Putting a list on your freezer, or pantry, or wherever you keep food means you can see at a glance what you have.

Take notes in spring on what you ran out of and what you had too much of. That way you can better plan the next year.

Winter Market Challenge

It’s so much easier to just hit a grocery store in the winter. They have all the food you need. Yet if you’ve been enjoying local food, you’ll see how much more delicious local food is when you return to the grocery and eat food sold for looks, not flavor.

Your grocery store offers foods from much farther away. They sell produce that has been in cold storage that was picked unripe, then ripened with ethylene gas when ready to ship. Their meat is bred for low fat and quick growth, not for flavor or nutrition.

Grocery stores insulate us from the reality of seasonal eating. When you limit yourself to foods at the winter markets, you learn more about when things are actually ripe.

Challenge yourself to eat local food in winter too. If you haven’t before, start with just one meal a week. From there, expand it.

Visit your local winter market and others as well. Support the farmers, and use the smaller variety as a challenge to your cooking. What can you make with only local food in February?

You might be surprised to see all the variety in produce you might find at the winter farmers markets. Long keeping vegetables and fruits can be delicious additions to meals.

Try sourcing all your food locally for special meals too. The holidays can be more delicious with a local roast or chicken.

You can also grow your own produce at home. Try your hand at microgreens, or growing fresh herbs in a sunny window or with lights. Grow long keeping vegetables in your fall garden, then mulch them and pick all winter.

If you don’t have a market close to you, look through the farms near by and see who offers winter CSAs or online sales. You may have something closer than you think.

The more local, seasonal food we choose, the more opportunities there are for local farmers. The explosion in growth of local food offers so much more variety. Buy it year round!

Challenging yourself to eat locally year round makes you a better cook. Limits to ingredients makes you more creative!

Conclusion

Eating locally is good for your health, for your community, and for the Chesapeake Bay. Better farming practices means better food and soils.

Local food in winter, though harder to find, is just as tasty as that in summer. Buying more of it will increase demand so that there will be more of it in the future.

Food grown for flavor and nutrition, not to mention animal welfare and the environment, tastes much better. It is perfect for both holiday meals as well as every day meals.

Cooking delicious local food means less work for you. When ingredients taste like they should, you don’t have to make a fancy meal to make it feel special.

Quick meals out of local ingredients may cost more than the grocery (though not always!) yet will be much cheaper and take less time than going to a restaurant.

Challenging yourself to eating local food in winter will improve your cooking skills and keep you connected to the seasons. Embrace winter and visit your local winter farmers market!