— Jeff Aldrich, Crow River Food Council Member. Feature image by Mary Sue Stevens.

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.
– John Steinbeck

30954969557_06e1bac2ac_mDriving through our region in January, I’ll occasionally spot a garden or vegetable plot that wasn’t cleared before winter set in. Once stalwart phalanxes of kale droop despondently next to trellises tangled with the spindly, brittle vines of last summer’s tomatoes. Hoops that once held row covers protecting the last spinach and hardy greens of the season resemble the vertebrae of large, delicate fossils. The orange bellies of frozen pumpkins protrude randomly from the snow; one hosts a crow pecking futilely at its frozen midriff. An unemployed watering can hangs from a fencepost above a bundle of garden hose. A nye of pheasants explores a patch of sweet corn stalks scouting for a cob missed by the humans and raccoons.

I take pleasure in coming across these scenes of local resilience during the winter months nearly as much as I enjoy seeing the vibrant patches of vegetables in the summer when farmers’ market tables are heaped with fresh produce. I tend to believe we here in the Upper Midwest appreciate the bounty of summer a bit more simply because we cannot enjoy it year round. We mark the days on our calendars until the first spring lettuce will become available, the first heirloom tomatoes, the first squash. And then we begin the wait again. Waiting for the sweetness of summer.

It will probably be at least a month before we start seeing the exhaust rising from snow-banked greenhouses as local growers turn on the heat and begin seeding starts for the summer season, and a month or two beyond that before early season crops start becoming available. But several nearby farmers’ markets continue to run through the winter months offering you the opportunity to purchase many items locally and support your area vendors during the off-season.

Image by Mary Sue Stevens

Image by Mary Sue Stevens

Typical vegetable offerings during this time of year vary from market to market, but often include storage vegetables such as potatoes, onions, carrots, brussels sprouts, turnips, and dried beans; occasionally you may even find something fresh and green such as hydroponic lettuce or micro-greens. Local eggs, meats, maple syrup, and honey are often available, and one can usually purchase breads and other baked goods as well as jams and jellies, krauts, mustards, pickles and relishes, dried herbs and seasonings, soaps, balms and lotions, and handmade craft items. If you are looking for something in particular, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local market to ask if they might have it.

Winter market hours are typically one or two days a month. The Crow River Food Council maintains a directory of area farmers’ market schedules here, but you may also consult the web site or social media accounts of your nearest market to confirm the dates, hours, and locations of their winter offerings.

We may be experiencing the worst of the cold of winter about now, but the sweetness of summer will again be upon us in no time. Until then, consider visiting an area winter farmers’ market to see what they have to offer. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you are able to find to tide you over.

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