If you haven't yet done some serious shopping at a local farmers’ market, may I be the first to encourage you to do so. There are more than 8,000 farmers' markets in the U.S. now, and the experience is highly worthwhile both for your health and as a tool for supporting our growing small-scale farming communities, particularly our nation's organic growers.
Buying from a local grower means you're getting the freshest seasonal items, which are more nutritious and more flavorful than the stuff that ripened on a truck days before it reached your fluorescent-lit supermarket. Yum. Supporting local food means you're reducing the transportation costs and environmental damage involved in shipping foods all over the country. Plus, you really do support a movement (and it really is a fast growing, important movement) of growers who are invested in caring for our land and our animals and growing nutritious and healthy foods for you and your family.
Of course, if you live in a climate where winter limits farmers’ market activities until the thaw, you can find your options for fresh and local foods severely restricted. But does that mean you should abandon all efforts and reach for the grapes from Chile? Not at all. In fact, you can even ramp up your support of organic farming during the winter in some pretty fun ways.
- Find a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture): Similar to your local farmers market, CSA programs depend on consumers to subscribe to membership programs. Then, they deliver fresh seasonal produce to your door weekly or monthly. While many farmers’ markets shut down in winter, many farms are still producing fruits and vegetables. Websites like LocalHarvest.org can help you find a CSA program in your area so you can get year-round access to the healthiest foods for you and the planet.
- Grow it Yourself: Indoor herb gardens are great and bring a sense of summer into your home during cold winter months, but you can actually grow quite a few foods outdoors in the winter—primarily root veggies like carrots, beets, onions, rutabaga, parsnip, and garlic. Hardy squash like pumpkin, butternut, or acorn may need to be harvested before deep winter, but they can keep for months once picked. Some greens, like cabbage and kale, can do well in cold weather too. Cabbage can also be stored for weeks. Some quick growing leafy greens that do well in winter include spinach, arugula, and collards.
- Stock your freezers: Before your farmers’ markets shut down, buy lots of your favorite veggies and fruits. Most can be frozen fresh. You may want to gently steam your leafy greens before freezing and dice up large items like carrots, squash, or peppers.
- Pickle: Fermented foods are incredibly important for our digestive health because of the friendly probiotics abundant in fermented foods. They're not a substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables, but they can add a wealth of nutrients and flavor to your winter meals. Pickle cucumbers, carrots, cabbage, beans, tomatoes, and peppers for a variety of flavors and textures. They make excellent gifts, too.
- Preserve: Just like your pickles, savor the fruity flavors of warmer months with freshly made fruit preserves and butters. They'll last the whole winter…hopefully! You can also dehydrate most fruits (and vegetables) as they are, or puree them and make dried "fruit leathers." These are fun and easy and a super healthy snack for kids.
- Get to know your neighbors: Don't borrow a cup of sugar, but getting to know your community can be really healthy. Are they growing foods? What did they freeze from the market? Have they been making pickles or fruit leather? You'd be surprised at just how many people are invested now in food sovereignty. Getting together for potlucks and food swaps are excellent ways to share great food and support healthy, organic living as a community.
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