Next story: A Lobster Treatise
The Crop Calendar
by Beaufort Wilbern
How to eat local and seasonal throughout the year
You want to eat locally grown food in season most of the time, if not exclusively. Keep in mind that our great-grandparents did just that, though of course they didn’t get to enjoy the pleasures of eating avocados and artichokes and mangos, or their daily bananas, whenever they desired. But they did have the pleasure of eating fresh, nutritious homegrown food every day.
Now you want that pleasure, and more—you want to support local agriculture and limit the environmental impact of importing food over long distances. But it’s not all that easy when the pace of life no longer revolves around food production and food preparation, when fast food is actually our way of life, with dinner sandwiched between working late and taking care of the kids.
The local supermarket isn’t much help, rarely offering homegrown food, or labeling it as such if they have it. With the growth of the slow food movement, however, things have started to change.
Say that you are committed, but you worry that your options are limited in a northern climate. You think, “Spring is for asparagus, and June for strawberries, corn and tomatoes in August, but what else can I eat?”
Lets begin with early spring. Learn to love greens, like chard, collards, kale, beet, turnip, and mustard greens, or the popular Asian greens. They are cold weather vegetables, many growing through the winter and staying green under the snow. You can eat them as early as the grower is willing to harvest them. Eat them Southern style, boiled with ham or bacon, seasoned with garlic and hot pepper, and save the “pot likker”—the nutritious broth left behind—for soup or sauce. Eat them stir-fried, alone or mixed with other ingredients. And, of course, there are potatoes, stored over the winter from last year’s harvest, and still delicious.
Next comes asparagus, mostly in May, followed by the cool weather crops—lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli, arugula. These will be in abundance in June, along with strawberries. And don’t forget rhubarb, for strawberry-rhubarb pie. That prolific vegetable pairs well with other fruits, too, including the last of the apples that have been stored over the winter, and it makes a tart accompaniment to meat and mixed with other vegetables.
Spinach, peas, lettuce, and many other cool weather crops don’t like summer heat. They go to seed and stop growing, so don’t expect such an abundance of them in July and August. They’ll be available again in the fall when the weather cools. Turn instead to the first of the warm weather crops—green beans, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, beets. Broccoli keeps going through the summer, and there are the summer fruits like cherries, raspberries, and blueberries. You might even get some of the earliest tomatoes in July.
By the end of July the hot season vegetables come to market, the food we all associate with summer: tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, corn, garlic, new potatoes, plus all of the above warm weather vegetables. Now is the time you can easily eat nothing but homegrown food, with no sacrifices. Eat corn on the cob until you die of happiness. Western New York is one of the best areas in the world for growing sweet corn. Make ratatouille with eggplant, zucchini, sweet pepper, tomato, garlic, and basil. Try succotash, essentially a dish of corn and beans, tracing its history to native americans. There are hundreds of regional versions and personal recipes, although purists insist on limiting it to the basic ingredients, and most recipes call for lima beans The version I grew up with in Virginia included tomatoes and okra. I say succotash is the quintessential summer vegetable stew. Follow whatever recipe suits your fancy, or make your own.
Moving into fall, the true harvest season has begun, and your choices are legion. You have the warm and hot weather vegetables, the cool weather ones have returned, and the fall ones are arriving. They are cabbage, cauliflower, onions, main season potatoes, winter squash, turnips and other roots, melons, apples, and dried beans. These are foods—many of which will keep in storage for months—that will provide you with locally grown harvest through the winter. In late fall and early winter there are still some fresh vegetables. Some, like brussels sprouts, kale, and leeks, are at their best after exposure to frost. And those spring greens are growing happily now, ready to carry you through the winter if someone can harvest them.
Eating locally gets harder in the winter, after frost kills off the summer crops. You have to rely on the cabbage family: roots, squash, apples, beans, and grains (for which there are some local sources; check out Five Points Bakery on Rhode Island Street, where they grind their own locally grown grain). With the push to eat locally and more traditionally, people are getting more creative with their recipes. Check on line for ideas. If the prospect of limiting your winter diet seems daunting, you might be happily surprised at your options.
And what about those exotics we don’t really want to give up? Artichokes are a possibility. Some varieties are marginally hardy in our climate zone, and others have been bred to produce in a single season for cold climate gardeners. Soon enough local farmers will be growing some for market, if they aren’t already. There are new dwarf varieties of avocado that can produce fruit in a greenhouse, and bananas too can be greenhouse grown. It is probably not practical to produce these on a commercial scale, but who knows what adventurous farmers might try? Eating locally is becoming more and more accessible to us over-extended city dwellers. So go out and explore the markets and city farms, and eat to your heart’s content.
Supermarkets and grocery stores have begun to carry some homegrown items, and farmers’ markets have expanded. The Clinton-Bailey market, which used to be the only one in the city, is open daily with a couple of permanent vendors that include locally grown food in their offerings, and on Saturdays it is a regular farmers’ market with multiple vendors from all over the area. Also on Saturday there’s the Bidwell market, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays farmers come into the downtown market.
Though these are the largest, there are others within the city and in the surrounding suburbs, plus numerous farm stands. The on-line publication Edible Buffalo (www.ediblecommunities.com/buffalo) has a guide. If you join one of the CSAs (community supported agriculture), which are cooperative farms in which you can buy a share, they make weekly scheduled deliveries of your food at distribution points in the city. Edible Buffalo also has a CSA guide.
There are some urban farms where you can buy your food directly at the farm without even leaving the city. The groundbreaking Massachusetts Avenue Project farm, at 389 Massachusetts Avenue on the West Side, sells fresh vegetables from their Growing Green farm, which is a training project and inspiration for the youth of their neighborhood. MAP also sells fresh tilapia from their environmentally sustainable aquaponics system. Wilson Street farm, near Broadway and Fillmore, overcame initial opposition from city hall to establish their farm on a large tract of vacant land on the east side. Their effort paved the way for others: CurbSide Croft, at the corner of West Avenue and Vermont Street soon followed. The Community Action Organization has begun its Urban Assisted Agriculture program, helping to establish urban farms throughout the city.blog comments powered by Disqus
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v9n26 (Summer Food Issue: week of Thursday, July 1) > The Crop Calendar
This Week's Issue • Artvoice Daily • Artvoice TV • Events Calendar • Classifieds