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In Winter, What's a Locavore to Do?

Locavores are part of a growing movement of people who want to eat food produced within about a 100-mile radius of their home.  Most locavores opt to purchase fruits and vegetables from local farmers (farmer’s markets, community-supported-agriculture (CSA) or grocer who purchases locally) or to grow them in home gardens.

farmers-market-produce-featured.jpgIn 2005, four San Francisco Bay area women coined the term “locavore” in their quest to engage a larger community in the conversation about eating locally. The reasons for pursuing this goal vary from the thrill of the economic challenge, to a desire for increased food safety, to the desire to reduce environmental resources expended to ship food.

Supporting the local community has been a tenet of local politics for eons, whether “local” means running for the school board, a county or state office or for national office. People who engage in this type of local support can be thought of as “economic locavores.”  

An “economic locavore” spends money locally. She may take her car to a local mechanic, eat Sunday breakfast at the neighborhood mom-and-pop diner, and buy books, clothes, home furnishings, and electronics from local and independent sellers whenever possible. In your region, small town, or neighborhood community, a locavore might be the mayor, city council-person, or businessperson, who uses the local economic transactions as opportunities for building goodwill among constituents.

Whether you approach food purchases from the economic, food safety, or environmental perspective (or another reason), buying all of your food locally can be a challenge. That challenge is even greater is you live in a region with a limited winter growing season.

For locavores facing winter climates that stunt or eliminate opportunities to grow fruits and vegetables, eating local fare takes a lot of preparation.

Many experienced locavores start working hard in early spring to preserve each harvest’s bounty for the lean months of winter.  Locavores who are still a bit green may find themselves behind the curve, but don’t worry, there is still plenty to do in the next months. And, for those locavores who don’t prefer these do-it-yourself tips, there are some suggestions for you, too!

Be prepared! It’s not just a motto to teach young boys and girls.

The best way to eat locally all year long is to preserve the fruits and vegetables you get from local farmer’s markets, grocers, or your garden. This holds true even if your winter months yield fresh fruits and vegetables. Preserves can come in handy for many dishes and can tide you over in between trips to the local grocer, farmer’s market, or CSA delivery.

The most economical way to do this is to preserve fruits and vegetables in large quantities as you harvest them, or as they ripen. Another option is to preserve, in smaller quantities, those fruits and vegetables you cannot consume before they spoil.

To prepare your pantry during the summer consider the following preservation methods:

  • Jams & Jellies
  • Pickling
  • Sauces, Pastes and Salsa
  • Freezing
  • Drying
  • Roasting
  • Canning whole fruits and vegetables

Locavores eat Seasonally.

Eating seasonally means there is always a seasonal delight just around the corner. Autumn figs and chestnuts, spring asparagus and August tomatoes come to my mind. Such a lifestyle enhances your pleasure from a particular food for many people, because the flavors are more intense and because they stimulate your senses in unique ways. Connecting with foods in this way is very rewarding for some people.

As a locavore you must adapt your diet. Do not expect fresh tomatoes in January in Wisconsin. Get used to using home-canned, home-roasted, or home-dried tomatoes, or use home-canned tomato paste or sauce for most of your cooking. Or, look for these products as value-added options available from local producers.

By eating fruits and vegetables that are in season, you’ll likely find that these foods are more flavorful than those that have to be shipped from thousands of miles away. The shipped food ripens in the shipping containers and trucks while en route to the grocery store, and is often engineered to be visually appealing but lacks flavor and texture of locally grown foods.

If you can’t stand to go even one month without tomato on your sandwich, don’t despair! Indulgences are available! Many locavores still indulge in out-of-season produce by finding creative alternatives. Some areas with burgeoning locavore communities have greenhouses that can grow produce out of season. Many farmers and nurseries produce seeds and starter plants in smaller greenhouses and could be persuaded to grow your favorite fruit or vegetable out of season (for a price).  

Another way to continue to eat locally is to seek out and support restaurants that buy food supplies locally. Eat at these restaurants that focus on buying locally. They may inspire you with new recipes and preparations you didn’t know about or hadn’t found in a recipe book. Talk to the chef – ask what you should be looking for at the farmer’s market and what’s in season. Chefs also have special preservation methods or can offer a tip on your current preservation project.

For non-vegetarians, meat preservation methods include drying, curing, smoking and freezing.

Feeling connected to your food because you made it is great. Each time you pull a jar out from the pantry shelf, you re-visit those lovely summer months. It puts the year in perspective and reminds you that summer will be here in the blink of an eye. You’ll note the passing of months with the dwindling supplies on your pantry shelves. And, canned preserves make a great gift if you’re crunched for time.

Autumn Bounty.

In many areas of the country, eating seasonally currently means buying squash, potatoes and other root vegetables that are filling up the shelves at farmers markets. Preserve them in a root cellar, if possible.

If you don’t have a root cellar, you can extend the lives of the fall bounty by storing them in a dark, cool place that does not experience extreme variations in temperature and that has good air ventilation. You can hang onions and garlic in mesh bags to extend their shelf-life.

No time? No supplies? No worries – you can still eat locally this winter!

Many people feel crunched for time as it is. You’ll note that the DIY methods listed above can be time-consuming, have expensive start-up costs for supplies or require more storage room (for equipment and resulting preserved foods) than you have available. If you are new to preservation, try one method, one fruit, one vegetable at a time and take it from there.

To enhance your experience, seek out like-minded peers and have fun while you do the work. Host a canning party and increase your pantry’s variety by divvying up the results among all of the participants. Look for a local kitchen (school, church, community center) where you can gather and share the workload and supplies. Many hands make light work!

For those people who can afford to pay for these services, start asking your local farmers or CSA representative if they would preserve fruits and vegetables for you. By asking now, you’ll give your farmer a better opportunity to line up additional staff to perform these tasks during the next growing season. And you will be able to replace the store-bought jars of food that line your pantry shelves with locally grown sauces, fruits and vegetables.

© Food Safety News