By now, most of Oregon’s farmers markets have closed down for the season. There are 23 Oregon farmers’ markets operating partway through November, but most of those finished up last week.
At a Friends of Family Farmers event last week, I learned that there are plenty of options for eating local food in the winter in Oregon, but it can take a little extra effort. The selection of local foods can be limited and harder to find than they are in other seasons.
You can grow your own winter veggies, though it’s too late to get started for this year. You can also sign up for a winter CSA (community supported agriculture).
Laura Masterson of the 47th Avenue Farm offers winter shares from her farm. She said she started growing winter veggies for herself in Portland and never expected so many people to sign up for her farm’s winter shares.
“I started a winter share thinking probably a few members would stick with me,” she said. “I didn’t really expect it to be a big deal.”
Now, 10 years later, her winter CSA is almost as big as the one she offers in the summer.
“It’s been far more successful than I’d ever hoped,” said Masteron, who also sits on the Oregon Board of Agriculture.
Her farm starts planting winter crops in July and August, so they can grow through September and October and hold up through the winter. Among the farm’s offerings are: carrots, beets, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, collard greens, kale, cabbage, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, fennel, kohlrabi, potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots and winter squash. Masterson said those veggies are actually tastier in the winter.
“One of the things that makes food amazing in the winter is the cold weather turns starches into sugars, which serve as an antifreeze,” she said. “They’re so sweet, so tender, so above and beyond what you can get in the summer.”
It is hard to grow veggies in the winter, she said. The rain makes it impossible to use heavy machinery without ruining the fields, so her farm workers have to harvest everything by hand.
“You have to keep the morale of your crew up,” she said. “It’s cold and dark, and everything is heavy.”
Another challenge, she noted, is convincing people to eat winter vegetables and love them.
Portlander Katherine Deumling, chair Slow Food USA board, said there are some prerequisites to enjoying locally grown winter veggies in Oregon. She’s the author of a book called Cook With What You Have, and she helps winter CSA members cook with their winter crop shares.
Deumling recommends keeping a stash of dry beans, an herb garden and a willingness to cook with winter vegetables.
“If you have beans, veggies and herbs, you’re set,” she said. “Being around and being committed to cooking is key. It’s work, but it’s fun work.”
Do you change your diet to eat local foods in the winter? Do you devote more time to cooking winter veggies? Which ones are your favorites?