Sunday, November 15, 2009

Three-season sustainability

The close of farmers markets in the fall always made me a little disappointed. The end of sweet corn and cherry-red tomatoes meant I was destined for months of bland food: tasteless iceberg lettuce, white potatoes and button mushrooms from the supermarket.

But the last few years, I've learned that eating a little more seasonally is not only possible, but I can do it and support the little guys down the road. Fresh from an attempt of a season with a CSA and an experiment with attending winter farmers markets, I'm slowly learning that you can enjoy good, local produce in Indiana at least three seasons of the year.

My first few attempts at visiting winter markets were a bit disappointing. Without the budget to buy grass-fed beef or fresh breads and a little worried about buying jars of pickled produce, I wasn't quite enthused about that time of year.

But this season in particular, I've been pleasantly surprised. The local markets, seeing interest from visitors and vendors alike, are extending their seasons until late October and into November. Our winter farmers market has seen such success that in its second year, it moved to a new location. And I was pleasantly surprised this weekend to be able to buy freshly picked broccoli and bok choy (which we've grown to love), shitake mushrooms (organic - and cheaper than at the grocery store!), hard-necked garlic, permisson (something new for all of us) and more. Box after box of apples, squashes and more provided clues of what would be available in weeks to come.

And this fall, encouraged by an online four-season gardening class I took, we dived in and planted a fall batch of argula, spinach, carrots, radishes, peas and garlic. Granted, growing is a little slow -- I confess that I forgot about it for a time! -- but it's a fun experiment nonetheless. My kids are thrilled to grab carrots out of our backyard, though they're not quite sure what to make of the dirt that comes with it (compared with the perfectly washed and sized baby carrots at the store). As our finances improve and my confidence grows, I'm looking forward to putting more of the information I gained to good use, hopefully being able to grow year-round in our little beds.

The thing is, when you buy something that's fresh - or even better, pick it from your backyard - it's much more enjoyable on the plate. Now, if I can only find that solution for that desolate period between New Year's and the first market openings in May!

This is my contribution for the November APLS carnival on Sustainable Living & You. You can read a wrap-up of these articles on Greening Families on Nov. 18.


Green Bean said...

It's amazing how it gets more enjoyable every year to eat more seasonally. I'm lucky because we live in California but even here, we do have to say goodbye to our tomatoes, grapes, and so on. You get into a rhythm. Find out what works for you. Find out what you can grow and where you can find things and, I do think, that as the Eat Local movement continues to grow, the growers continue to provide a bit more opportunity for us to eat local longer. Great post.

Lisa said...

I have a hard time eating seasonally. For now I just try and only eat US produce. Not great but better than a lot of people.

Our farmer's market closes during the winter so that doesn't help. Also since I live in Oklahoma we do have a winter so not a lot of local stuff during the winter. I do freeze stuff and try and need less produce over the winter. Hopefully I will keep getting better at all of it.

Steph @ Greening Families said...

Thanks for participating in this month's APLS carnival!

Isn't it exciting to grow to love new foods? We had no idea what to do with okra, beyond gumbo, when we first received it in our CSA box. Now that we have learned more dishes, our kids literally jump up and down yelling, "Yeah! Okra!" when we get a big batch.

We're not there with bok choy yet so I'd love to learn how you prepare it.

Robbie said...

Steph - I usually slice bok choy and then stirfry in a little sesame or peanut oil. Or I use it in low mein. I find the smaller bok choys have better flavor than the big ones you find at the store.

Lisa, I'm surprised Okla. doesn't have any winter markets yet - We've got them here, and we're much farther north!

GreenBean, I'm jealous of anyone who's able to eat good, fresh veggies year round, even if you have to forgo fresh grapes for a bit!