Photo: Unhindered Talent at Flickr
The importance of sourcing, properly storing and eating a balanced local diet all year long is an idea that has been almost completely replaced by the convenience and ease of supermarket shopping.
Fortunately, this standard is becoming increasingly undesirable and unacceptable for many people, for both health and environmental reasons. The thought of making routine trips to the grocery store in the middle of winter to buy produce that we could have stored or preserved, if time and space for gardening was available, isn't very comforting.
This situation can be remedied, in part, by buying surplus produce from local organic farms to store, can, dry, freeze and ferment for winter consumption. Often available in large quantities and sold at a discounted bulk price, what might not make it to market could feed you until spring.
Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables, an easy method for making local food last year-round and for use in fast suppers, is great for berries, onions, bell peppers, corn and beans. An inexpensive water bath canner is an essential kitchen item if you have access to an orchard (many are "pick-your-own" for a reduced price) or can buy extra local berries in the summer to make fruit butters and jam for the winter. An excess of tomatoes (maybe a bit too banged-up to sell at the market) is a common situation among small farms and gardeners. They're commonly sold at a reduced price as seconds and are easily made into wonderful tomato sauce, salsa, paste and ketchup. Near the end and hottest part of the summer, when the last burst of hot peppers come to market, buy a couple pounds or so for drying and grinding, a locally grown spice to heat up pizza or pad Thai on cold winter nights.
Fermenting the harvest is, by far, the most energy-efficient and nourishing way to eat local organic produce throughout the winter. Many farms tend to have extra cool-weather crops at the end of the growing season, and what they aren't going to keep for their own winter food is often available for bulk purchase. Root veggies such as beets, kohlrabi, radishes and turnips make an excellent cultured vegetable combination, which will easily last you until the next spring harvest. Sauerkraut and kim chi are the best way to preserve any green, red or Napa cabbage that you come across.
Supporting local organic farms in this way not only gives them a needed boost of income at the end of a season, it secures the continued growth of the local farm and more intimately ties the farmer to the community and the individual. The most important part in experimenting with different methods of preserving the harvest is to source the food you want to eat. If you don’t like tomatoes, get more cabbage, and if you need to limit sugar intake dry more veggies than fruit; just make it work for you and remember that spring, and that long-awaited fresh salad, is only a few months away.