How to Eat Local
All Year Long
By Summer Miller
Photography by Carole Topalian
The changing seasons and cooler weather could mean the end to fresh, local produce, but thanks to high tunnels, greenhouses and enhanced farming techniques, our growing season lasts year-round. Don’t let “sweater weather” signify the end of tasty food. Now is the best time to seek out and secure sources of winter roots and spring greens.
Brick and Mortar
The first option is much like traditional grocery shopping, only on a smaller scale. Tomāto Tomato inOmahaprovides local produce, as well as meat, poultry, wine and eggs throughout the year. Of the 100 local vendors at Tomāto Tomato, 35 are fruit and vegetable growers. You can also get local greenhouse cucumbers and tomatoes year-round. By supporting brick-and-mortar businesses, you create demand for local food products and support additional distribution outlets for farmers.
In February 2013, southwestOmahawill see a Colorado-based food store, Natural Grocers, opening its secondNebraskalocation. A spokesperson for the company said it is a full-service grocery store that will include local, organic foods. Other standard grocery stores such as Hy-Vee, which is an Iowa-based chain, and Wohlner’s Neighborhood Grocery and Deli, which has its roots firmly planted inOmaha, also carry local foods year-round. While stores provide one option, subscribing to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program offered by a local farm could be the best choice.
Is a CSA Right for Me?
CSA subscriptions are good for people who love surprises or appreciate encouragement toward trying new things. Subscribers tend to be those who see their decision to eat locally as a way to support small farms and local economies.
Most CSA programs run during a scheduled set of weeks, and subscribers generally prepay for their weekly share of whatever the farm is harvesting that week. Some farms offer add-on items such as meats, eggs and cheeses in their CSA options. Subscribers pick up their harvested share of vegetables and add-ons at a predetermined time and location.
By subscribing to a CSA, you commit to share both the risk and reward with farmers. If they’re having a great season with a bumper crop, then your CSA box will likely have more in it. If it’s a terrible season, then the contents could be sparse.
CSAs are a great way to diversify your meals. You don’t necessarily know what you’re going to get from week to week, which may force you to try new foods. If you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, for example, you probably won’t intentionally buy them. But if they arrive in a prepaid CSA box, you may be willing to give them a shot. On the other hand, CSA boxes require seasonal eating, which could leave you wondering what to do with yet another box of parsnips and braising greens.
Many farmers try to help subscribers with this by providing recipes and advice on how to preserve produce for a “rainy day.”
Shadow Brook Farm, a diversified organic farm nearLincoln,Nebraska, offers a late- and early-season CSA option with multiple pick-up locations. The late season starts the week after farmers markets end in October and runs through the first week in December. The early season begins in April. “We offer an incentive to early subscribers, but people can join anytime,” says Charuth Van Beuzekom, who owns and operates Shadow Brook with her husband, Kevin Loth.
Order and Pick-up Programs
Order and pick-up programs are similar to the CSA concept in that you work directly with the farmer, but you aren’t committed to a weekly order. You can pick and choose what you want and order as much or as little as you like.
Squeaky Green Organics and Honey Creek Farms both will launch late-season pick-up programs in October. This year, Honey Creek will offer produce through December, while Squeaky Green will run until the farmers markets reopen in May 2013.
Honey Creek Farms, a chemical-free biodynamic farm, posts its available produce on its website. You can email or call in an order, and select your delivery date, time and location. In addition to produce, Honey Creek also offers Thanksgiving turkeys, eggs and other poultry items. Delivery is available every other week to four sites in theOmahametro area.
For Squeaky Green, contact the owner, Bryan Kliewer, or sign up via the farm’s website to receive an email every Monday listing what’s available. Customers can place an order via text, email or phone by the end of the day Wednesday. Food is harvested on Thursday, and pick-up is on Friday or Saturday at a location inOmaha’s Old Market.
It’s important to remember that eating locally in the winter, for the most part, means eating seasonally. Winter vegetable options differ by grower, but it’s safe to assume that cool-weather crops and root vegetables will likely be among the offerings. Think spinach, lettuce, braising greens, radishes, parsnips and Brussels sprouts.
“All of these vegetables taste significantly better in the winter,” says Bryan of Squeaky Green. “The cold weather and short day lengths result in vegetables that are sweeter and tastier. And since we have few insect problems, they are picture-perfect.”
Cool months create a perfect opportunity to explore local protein options. The first place to start is to build a relationship with your favorite farmer during the summer months. Many farmers have onsite stores or offer alternative methods of ordering directly.
If you are looking for a more streamlined approach, you have some options. Stores create an opportunity to select from different producers so you can find the flavor profile and products that appeal to you. You can find a variety of animal products at Tomāto Tomato—eggs, poultry, beef, pork, lamb, bison and ostrich, to name a few. Once you find a producer you like, you may choose to build a relationship by contacting him or her directly.
Another way to keep a steady supply of local protein is through Thankful Harvest Farm inHolstein,Iowa. It provides 100% grassfed certified organic beef and lamb, as well as eggs and non-soy organic-fed poultry. And the farm will deliver to your house. “We will deliver it wherever you need it. Home, office—wherever you are, we will bring it to you,” says Tom German, farm owner, and the person who likely will deliver your order.
Visit the farm’s website and fill out the form to get on the mailing list. An order form will be sent out every three weeks. Place your order and set up delivery arrangements. The following week, you will have local organic meat, poultry and eggs at your door. The farm doesn’t charge a delivery fee, nor does it require a minimum order. From Tom’s experience, customers who order a little in the beginning tend to order more the next time and that makes the delivery trip worthwhile for him.
Online Ordering Sites
Online ordering options are becoming increasingly popular. The Nebraska Food Cooperative is one of the more established local food sources. Shoppers join the community for a fee, and then shop and order based on producers’ offerings, which include nonfood items as well. LocalDirt.com works in a similar way. It doesn’t require a fee to shop, and while it isn’t a Nebraska- or Iowa-based business, it offers products from local farmers.
At first glance, these might seem similar to order and pickup options, but rather than ordering directly from one farm, many farms are listed on these sites. You can select food options from multiple farms, which provides a broader selection and an opportunity to comparison-shop. Delivery options vary by site.
As you replace your sandals for socks and shoes and wrap your bare arms in a sweater, consider using local sources for winter food harvested during cool mornings and crisp nights. It’s likely that you will discover a new appreciation for the parsnip or ruffled-edged kale when it’s picked at the peak of cold-weather perfection.
Summer Miller is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Every Day with Rachel Ray, AAA Living, The Reader and more websites than room to note. She lives with her husband and two children in Elkhorn, Nebraska, where she spends most of her time thinking and writing about food. As of late, she has been traveling the forgotten plains of Iowa and Nebraska writing her first book, which is, of course, all about food and those who love it.