Where to get local produce in the winter months
Farmers Markets are fantastic sources for local and seasonal fruits, vegetables, crafts, and pastries. Local farmers markets have a fun, festival-like atmosphere with various food vendors and bright colors supplied by the fresh produce. It seems that frequenting these markets has boundless benefits; the only problem is where to get your produce during the winter? As the farmers market season has come to a close, many may return to shopping big-box grocery stores for food products. However, several options are available that can help keep local produce in your kitchen year-round!
Grow your own indoor herb garden
If you can’t live without fresh herbs, why not flex your green thumb and grow them yourself? Below are the steps to help you grow your very own indoor herb garden.
Choose your plants. Make sure you choose plants you know thrive well indoors; a few of these include rosemary, thyme, basil, mint, and oregano. You may also find more success in growing your plants from seedlings purchased at the local nursery, rather than from seeds.
Drainage. Herbs can grow in just about any container, so long as there is adequate drainage. You can choose a pot from the local garden store, or you can upcycle containers from around your home! To further ensure adequate drainage, try adding a small layer of pebbles to the bottom of your container; this prevents the soil from being saturated.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes! It is recommended that your herbs get around 6 hours of direct sunlight every day, so be sure to choose a spot in your home that gets plenty of consistent and direct sunlight. South windows provide the most consistent direct sunlight throughout the year and may be best for your herbs.
H2O. One of the most important factors in the success of your garden is how much and how often you water your plants. A common issue is overwatering, and while allowing for adequate drainage helps, it cannot save plants that are consistently overwatered. A good rule to follow is to ensure the soil is consistently moist, but not sopping wet. If your soil is wet but the leaves turn yellow and begin wilting, scale back your watering.
Harvest. The best part about having an indoor herb garden is always having fresh herbs available. The best way to harvest herbs is to snip a portion off with kitchen shears or to pinch the stem and carefully remove a part of the plant. It is best to avoid harvesting more than a quarter of the plant at a time to prevent stress and the possible demise of your plant.
Join a winter CSA
Community Supported Agriculture is becoming increasingly more available and allows many communities to continue supporting their local farmers throughout the winter. One thing to consider when joining a CSA during the winter is that there is going to be less variety in your produce, especially for those living in colder climates, such as in Iowa. Your CSA may be packed with winter and cold storage produce such as potatoes, cabbages, and onions. Many farmers may offer additional items such as fresh eggs, pickles, jams, and meat. Follow this link to find an Iowa CSA farm near you.
Shop for local produce at your grocery store
Often when the farmers market closes for the season, farmers will turn to local stores to sell their product through the winter. You can contact your local farmer directly to see what stores carry their products. Some farmers markets even have a list of vendors and their contact information available online.
It is important to note the difference between local and organic produce. Not all local farms are organic, and not all organic farms are local. The term ‘organic’ has a very specific and legal meaning. For a product to be advertised as organic in the United States the grower cannot have used synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMO). Many local farmers use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Another quick way to know the difference while shopping is to know the seasonality and shelf life of the produce you are purchasing. Foods like squash, potatoes, onions, and apples can be kept for several months in the right conditions, while things like strawberries and lettuce cannot.
Looking to the future, here are a few tips to keep in mind for when next fall rolls around.
Shop for cold storage foods
Several produce options store well for long periods of time and are available throughout the market season. Stock up on a few of these items to keep them all winter long!
Roots and tubers: Stock up on root vegetables like beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, radishes, garlic, and turnips. Potatoes are also a fantastic tuber that store well and work well in a variety of dishes.
Onions: Get plenty of onions to help season your dishes. As long as they are kept in a cool, dry, and dark location, they can last up to three months!
Fruits: Be sure to pick up some of your favorite fruits and freeze them when you get home. You can puree or stew them for jams, pie fillings, sauces, and smoothies. Another option is to make them into sorbet or ice cream so that they can be served directly from the freezer. Additionally, you can choose to freeze them whole, but be aware this can change their texture as the freezing process breaks down the cell walls of the fruit and leaves them mushy once thawed.
Purchase “value-added” products
Value-added products are items that farmers may turn into prepared foods. Some markets may sell items like dried beans, freshly ground flours, pickles, and honey. Another good option is to purchase pantry items with long shelf lives, such as jams, dried chile peppers, and dried herbs.
Now, go and forage for local produce, whether it be directly from a farmer through a CSA, at your grocery store, or in your own kitchen. There are multiple ways to keep locally produced food in your home year round, and now you can try it yourself!
Goldberg, H. (2014, July 22). People Still Don’t Know the Difference Between “Organic” and “Local.” Time. https://time.com/2970505/organic-misconception-local/
Miller, A. (2016, January 22). 5 Ways to Eat Local During Winter. Delicious Living. https://www.deliciousliving.com/health/5-ways-eat-local-during-winter/
Reilly, K. (2020, February 28). Your Ultimate Guide to Growing Herbs Indoors. Eating Well. https://www.eatingwell.com/article/289996/your-ultimate-guide-to-growing-herbs-indoors/
Sacks, K. (2020, January 27). Winter Farmer’s Market Shopping Tips. Food Print. https://foodprint.org/blog/winter-farmers-market/
Sacks, K. (2021, February 23). Despite All the Root Veggies, Winter CSAs Have Plenty of Perks. Food Print. https://foodprint.org/blog/winter-csa/
About the Author
Bri Hull is the Communications Associate at the Tallgrass Prairie Center. Originally from Kansas City, Missouri, Bri came to Iowa to attend Wartburg College. In her time in Iowa she developed an interest in environmental science and stayed to learn more about ways she can help her community. In her time with Green Iowa AmeriCorps, Bri hopes to learn how to become more green and how to reach out to her community to do the same.