Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Four seasons of eating locally

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let's Talk About Food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I envy my southern friends who share their spring garden success stories, or talk about the fruit they found at the local farmer's market in February.  In northern states like mine, with long winters and hot summers, we don't have those luxuries.  Eating locally can be a real challenge, but sometimes the thrill of the hunt is as good as the food we find.  Every season has something to offer by way of local food, and if variety is truly the spice of life, then we're heaping on that spice right here.

While Wisconsin weather is totally unpredictable, the biggest, ugliest piles of snow start to melt in March, and aside from an occasional late April snow shower, things start to get green after the Easter holiday.  As the frozen ground turns to mud, our thoughts turn to gardening.  The local garden stores bring out their seeds and peat pots, and gardeners get busy planning out this year's bounty.  I began my garden planning in March and found that my old garden was too small for everything I had planned.  In April I began starting my peppers and eggplants indoors.  By May I had doubled my garden space and by Memorial Day all of my seeds and plants were in the ground.

Planning is all well and good, but what about eating?  A handful of farmer's markets open in April, typically featuring meats, cheeses, early rhubarb, maple syrup, mushrooms and greenhouse cucumbers and tomatoes.  The variety is a little lacking in the beginning, but it only gets better as the year goes on.

Summer is simply the season for eating locally in a cooler climate.  By May and June all of the local farmer's markets are in full swing, featuring everything from strawberries to broccoli to chard and lettuce greens.  In July, squash, eggplant, melons, carrots and beans are fully stocked, while August brings on the greatest bounty yet:  cherries, cucumbers, shallots, garlic, artichoke, onions, parsley, parsnips, pears, plums, potatoes, sweet corn and so much more.

The farmer's markets have to share the spotlight with local gardens by this time of the year.  In early summer, tomatoes, peppers, onions and peas are making their appearances in the garden.  By mid summer we see cucumbers, ripe tomatoes and all kinds of peppers, beans, eggplant, just to name a few.

Another summer favorite that's especially fun with children are the "pick your own" farms.  Strawberries, raspberries and apples are the most popular "pick your own" attractions, while cherries and beans are fun options too.

While summer brings the best fresh harvest, fall can't be beat for one thing:  canning.  The late season farmer's markets are the best place to find cucumbers suitable for pickling, apples perfect for applesauce, fruits of all kinds for jellies and preserves, and tomatoes and peppers perfect for a chili base on a cold winter night.

A good number of farmer's markets soldier on into the fall months, as apples, pumpkins and corn remain viable and are very popular as the weather turns cool.

In response to the increasing popularity of organic foods and local eating, Milwaukee now has its very own winter farmer's market.  Last year was the inaugural year for the market, and despite the fact that many vendors hadn't planned for year-round sales, the variety was not bad.  In this coming winter we should see much more variety as the sellers have planned ahead for the demand created by this unique market.

Eating locally has been a fun endeavor for our family, and every year we add some new local flavor to our menu.   Every season brings its own challenges and its own rewards, and we're enjoying it immensely.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated July 13 with all the carnival links.)



Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

I totally do that thing where I have more plants than garden space. :) Everything's just so tempting when it's all seeds and seedlings!

I love that you've divided your post into the four seasons. I'm really trying to think year-round now as a gardener, and plan out crops that can be harvested in the fall or overwinter. (We live in the Pacific NW, which doesn't have the harsh winters of Wisconsin but has its own issues, like very late and little summer heat and sun.) I'm trying to figure out root veggies and cool-season crops and canning and all that fun stuff! Here's hoping for year-round fresh or preserved produce for both of our families.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I've been considering trying a small container garden this year (if I can find some cheap lights) - your "winter" section made me really excited about homegrown veggies in December :)

Shana said...

I live in the desert, where it's hard to grow anything. However, I'm surprised how much agriculture is just a few hours away. If I look hard enough, I can find some locally grown produce, even in the desert. Like you said - the thrill of the hunt. :)

Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog said...

What a fascinating post. I love seeing how people deal with their climate challenges and it was great to read about your life. Thank you for sharing such details; I feel like I really shared in a slice of your life..

Jessica said...

Living in TX I never thought about the challenges of northerners, but I love the idea of a Winter Farmers' Market. To be perfectly honest, winter harvests are my favorite!

(Also, I LOVE your blog name. I used to joke around and call my (now husband) my Monkey Butt Boyfriend. Usually while I was stroking his ear so he could never actually hear it hahaha.)

Deb Chitwood said...

Great ideas for eating locally year round. I hadn’t heard of a winter farmer’s market before. How wonderful! I’d like to do a bit better at eating locally year round. Thanks for the inspiration!

seonaid said...

Oddly enough, Monkey Butt is also my preferred pet name for my youngest child. I try to remember not to use it in public, though.

Yes, the seasonal aspect of local eating becomes a significant issue in the North. I will recommend Eliot Coleman's "Four Season Harvest" for the aspiring northern gardener. It is inspiring, to say the least!

BeanMa said...

We have a local farmers market here one day a week, but I was pretty devastated to find out none of it is organic! What's up with that??

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

BeanMa: I don't know if you talked with the farmers personally, but in some circumstances, they can be organic in practice but not certified. To be certified costs money that they might not have, and it's a multi-year process, so they might have just begun it. I'm not saying that's definitely the case, but it's worth talking with the farmers at the market to find out what their philosophies and standards are.