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The search for fresh produce in February

 For the second year in a row, we're holding two special cooking classes for Valentine's Day, and this year, I was determined to include a locally-sourced salad. Now, with a couple feet of snow on the ground and temperatures in the single digits, growing fresh salad greens in no small feat, and it turned out that sourcing them wasn't easy, either.

I started by asking our co-workers in the Farmer Training Initiative if they knew of growers in the CRAFT Network doing season extension (using row cover, high tunnels, greenhouses, cold frames, and other structures to keep food growing beyond it's normal outdoor growing season). They directed us to some nearby farms, and the search began.

  • Radical Root and LotFotL Farm were tapped out for the season. 
  • Tiny Tempest Farm grows some high quality salad mixes, but those leaves are destined for farmer's markets in Chicago.
  • Snug Haven Farm has a winter CSA that includes spinach, but they're over an hour away. (I considered making the 90 minute trip up to the Dane County Farmer's Market, but then the greens would have been a week old by the time they reached our participants' plates).
  • Friends at Trogg's Hollow and Belly Fire Farm had some greens growing, but not in the quantity we needed.

We're lucky to have a few great natural food stores within about 30 minutes of the farm, so I called around. This time of year, their fresh greens are from California. 

Finally, I connected with Penny over at Wishful Acres Farm in Lena, IL. They're growing super nutrition and delicious microgreens for their winter microgreens CSA program, and luckily, had an abundant enough harvest to sell us some for our Valentine's Day dinner. Salad sourcing success! 

I learned a couple of lessons along the way:

  • Plan (way) ahead!  Even though the quantities we'll need for the classes are relatively small (about 2 pounds), next year we'll put in an order in July  or August so that our farmer friends can plan and plant for us. 
  • We need more local farmers! And we're grateful for the ones we have. OK, I already knew that in order to build a better food system, more farmers are essential, but it made me extra grateful for the work our Farmer Training program does to support the farmers in the region, not to mention the way some of these resilient growers are tending to living things despite all odds. 
  • For fresh food in the winter, it helps to be in or near a major urban center. It's ironic fact of our current food system that it is sometimes easier to find fresh food at an urban farmer's market than in the rural places where it's actually grown.
  • To eat seasonally in the winter, hold on to your storage veggies! Grow your own! We'll have butternut squash soup made from Angelic Organics squash we stored in the fall, plus fresh herbs from my indoor container gardens. Yum!

Tell us about your attempts to eat local in the off-season! Know of any good farmers growing fresh produce in the winter? Tell us in the comments!