More and more folks are catching on to the fact that eating local foods is a great way to support healthy bodies, communities, and environments. The exact distance it takes to make “local food” local varies depending on who you’re talking to. If you find it helpful, think of local food as that which has been grown, produced, and processed within the region you live, generally within about a 100 mile radius.
Food grown locally is, generally, healthier for you. First off, it’s fresher, so it’s higher in nutrients. Most commercially available produce from across the country, or from another country, travels weeks or even months before arriving at your fridge.
Local foods are grown by local people, and the overwhelming trend of the movement leans toward sustainable farming practices that conserve resources and eschew chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which means a cleaner, safer, healthier product for you. These small business owners keep their dollars in the local economy, which means that communities stay vibrant.
Lastly, local foods are an important part of resource and habitat conservation. Local foods don’t spend weeks on planes, trains, ships, and trucks to get transported to us, which means they save - literally - tons of oil and emissions. Small, local farmers and home gardeners often act as stewards of the land and water they depend on. They have the power to create diversified, resilient, biodynamic systems that operate with nature to support both healthy crops and healthy ecosystems. It’s a win-win situation.
But… it’s winter. In Cleveland. How’s a local-foods supporter supposed to score fresh food in a landscape of 20 degrees and snow? Below are some tips to help you make the best out of what winter has to offer:
Sprouting is easy and quick and cheap to start up, and the payoffs are tremendous! All you need to start is a jar and seeds and sprouting lid, of which there are many styles. Heck, you could make your own out of a piece of wire mesh if you really wanted. Sprouting seeds come in a variety of blends which offer tons of flavor. You can find them in high-quality grocery stores and online. Basically, seeds are soaked and then rinsed for about a week until plant sprouts appear and start to turn green. One small bag of seeds can easily provide you with fresh, home-grown greens for months! Read more about sprouting here.
Sprouting is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get fresh greens in your diet during winter
You can grow fresh produce in Cleveland’s winters, but it will take some ingenuity. Most folks who don’t have space for a proper greenhouse look toward a much smaller version called a cold frame, which can be fancy and finished or DIY garbage-picked. A cold frame consists of, well, a frame that is usually built out of wood or an insulated material like straw or cob. The top of the cold frame consists of glass or Plexiglas. I used old windows to make mine. The whole thing acts like a mini greenhouse that holds light and heat, letting hardy plants grow well into the winter months. Crops like kale, lettuce, spinach, and more can be harvested fresh from the garden, even in December! Read more about cold frames here.
Also, local food doesn’t stop at produce. Why not have your own fresh eggs? Or raise some chickens and turkeys for fresh meat? Or help yourself to honey from your own hive? It is entirely possible to raise small livestock on even the tiniest of urban yards. Make sure to look into your local zoning laws before you get started.
Cold Storing Fresh Foods
Plan ahead and start thinking about what you can grow this summer that can be stored for eating long after the first snow. Winter squashes and roots like carrots, beets, celery root, rutabaga, turnips, garlic, onions and more can all be stored in your garage or basement. You can grow these foods at home, or buy them from the market while in season, and then sit on them for weeks to months. Ideally, we eat food at its freshest to gain the maximum nutrients, but the quest to eat local in northern climates calls on us to take a lesson from our forbearers put food up in good times so that we can eat in bad. Amazingly, properly stored foods retain much of their flavor and freshness, with some squashes even requiring a good long sit in order to develop their palatability. Different foods do have different storage preferences, however, so look into the temperature and humidity requirements of the food you’re storing for optimal results. Read more here.
Preserve Through a Process
Cold storage is just the basics of food preservation. There’s a whole world of ways in which we can save foods while they are in season for good eating down the line. The most commonplace food preservation of modern day is freezing. Instead of the bagged veggies from California, why not grow or buy your own local produce and then pop it into freezer bags? It is a pretty cool feeling to eat the corn or beans I grew in August in the middle of February!
You can advance into bigger territories as well. Canning is definitely making a comeback, and for a good reason. With the proper equipment, it is ridiculously easy (albeit time consuming) to put up your own pickles, sauces, soups, and more. A dehydrator is a great tool for making snacks out of fruits like strawberries and apples, though of course it can be used to dry all sorts of foods. And for the really adventurous, fermenting is a time-honored tradition of preservation, with endless options to create healthful, diverse concoctions.
Dehydrators are great investments for putting up fresh food to be eaten later in the year. You can make veggie chips, dried fruits and fruit leathers, jerky, and more!
OK, so you don’t garden. No biggie! You can eat local without a green thumb. Plenty of local farms are still supplying fresh goodies to the public during the winter. Don’t go expecting tomatoes and melons, however. Winter farmers markets usually offer lots of cold-season produce like cabbages, onions, carrots, beets, etc., as well as meats and dairy and dried goods like beans and grains. Find where to shop here.
You're likely to find cold-weather veggies like those in the Brassica family at winter farmers' markets