Eating Local in the Northern Piedmont in Winter
You know there is a problem when the Virginia Department of Agriculture puts out a produce chart that shows that the only fresh produce available from Virginia in December and January are apples, herbs, greens/spinach (in December only says the chart), and sweet potatoes. Come ON! Granted, “Greens” cover a wide variety of vegetable, but even I grow more than this in my own plot. And can buy a lot more locally. And could buy even more if only more farmers were doing what Sunnyside Farms in Washington, VA does, with their winter growing in hoop houses. They sell at the FreshFarm Market at Dupont Circle in Washington, DC and offer local share of produce to local subscribers. Last year, around Christmas time, I was able to buy a few boxes of produce of achingly beautiful winter vegetable: I remember small brilliant carrots, petite Japanese white turnips with tasty edible green tops, deep pink radishes (also with edible tops), colorful lettuce, robust escarole, crisp spring onions…
One can eat well & fresh in the mid-Atlantic area even in winter. Many vegetable can be grown if given some cold protection. Think about it: here in Rappahnannock County we are roughly on the 40th parallel, i.e. roughly the same latitude as Southern Spain or Athens, Greece. We get the sun, we just need to protect the crops from the worse of the winter by using cold frames or unheated hoop greenhouses with a little thermal mass. Now it won’t be corn, tomatoes or eggplant… but we can grow a varied list of veggies which are perfect for the soups and braised dishes of winter cookery.
Some can be grown despite the weather with some protection (spinach), some must be picked in the fall and stored (apples) some of them grown and some stored from the fall crop.
Below is a list of fruit & vegetable that can be eaten fresh and locally in winter in the Northern Piedmont. It’s a fairly long list and is not even touching on produce that one could have frozen, dried or canned from the summer or fall harvests (i.e. tomatoes, beans, corn, peaches, berries etc). I bolded the ones I am growing in my garden this fall & winter, to show that it can be done! If there is anything I forgot, please add it to the comment section.
- Apple (from storage)
- arugula aka rocket salad
- Asian greens (tatsoi, boichock, pak chok, mizuna, purple mustard …)
- Asian pears (storage)
- beets & beet greens (beet roots might be from storage in the deep of winter)
- Brussels sprouts (might be from storage in the deep of winter)
- cabbage (red, green, napa, savoy, Chinese…) – some from storage in the deep of winter
- carrots (might be from storage in the deep of winter, although they keep perfectly well in the ground for us)
- celeriac (celery-root) (might be from storage in the deep of winter)
- celery-leaf, aka par-cel aka cutting celery
- endive & escarole
- Belgian endive
- herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, cilantro, parsley, chives…
- Jerusalem artichokes, aka sun chokes, a native North American tuber
- kale, in its many forms & color
- leeks (I am not growing them this year, but I have in the past)
- many different kinds of lettuces, red, green, speckled, smooth, crinkled, frilly, headed, loose-leaves
- nuts (storage)
- mache (lamb’s lettuce or field salad)
- mustard greens
- onions (bulb storage); spring/green onion, fresh
- parsnips (might be from storage)
- pears (storage)
- persimmon (wild – limited time around Thanksgiving to Christmas)
- potatoes (from storage)
- quince (from storage)
- radishes (red, black & Japanese)
- pumpkin (from storage)
- sorrel (will dwindle if it’s really cold to re-emerge in March)
- sweet potatoes (from storage)
- Swiss chard and perpetual spinach beet (a form of Swiss Chard with little stem)
- Turnips and turnips greens
- winter squash (from storage): acorn, butternut, buttercup, Hubbard, Cinderella, Queensland etc
I bet pea shoots would also work. I’ll have to try that next year under cover in the winter. In the fall, I eat peas and pea shoots until a hard frost comes (which has not happened yet this year), but I never had enough tall covered space for peas in winter.
Anything else that should be on here?
Sure, some of the produce on the list might be a little difficult to find. But if more of us were asking for them, then more farmers would be likely to grow them. So…don’t trust the way-too-limited Virginia Department of Agriculture chart: ask your grocer or your farmer for fresh seasonal Virginia-grown produce! If I can grow them, others can to.
Eat well. Eat seasonal. Eat local.