52 Weeks Down - Week 25 - Change your Diet

Sharon November 4th, 2007

This isn’t the first post I’ve written about how to eat in this series, but I keep coming back to it because it is so central and potentially so powerful. At Community Solutions last week, a woman from Manhattan asked me and the other CSA farmers in our workshop why it was that she could only get local food for 20 weeks a year or so. It took me a minute to answer her, because the truth is that in one form or another, I can fairly easily produce food from April 1 to December 1, but the CSA delivery season is only mid-June to mid-October. Why is it then, that I’m not selling food 8 months of the year? Or twelve, for that matter, which I could do with a fairly small investment in season extension techniques.

The simple answer to that is that I can grow local food 8 months a year uncovered (longer sometimes), and another four months with cover, but what I can’t do is find enough people who are truly committed to eating a real, seasonal diet to make it worthwhile. I’ve considered it - Eliot Coleman in Maine grows food for sale during the winter only, and gardens for his own pleasure in the summer. But he sells in larger markets than I do, and the CSA model does place some limitations on me - that is, in order for me to offer a year-round CSA, I would have to have a large population that wanted to eat the kinds of things that grow here in the winter.

What grows in upstate NY in the winter? Green stuff. Cole crops like cabbage, Collards, Kale and Brussels Sprouts. Spinach. Some lettuces. Arugula. Asian greens like mizuna and bok choy. Cress. Mustards. Mache. Minutina. Lots, and lots and lots of greens. I can keep some root crops in the ground under cover (carrots, turnips, parsnips) as well. But in order for me to sell those crops, I’d have to have a large population that likes brussels sprouts, arugula and kale enough to eat large quantities of them daily.

I do. My family eats from our garden 8 months a year, and then gardens all winter under cover for our own pleasure. The food is wonderful - the cold weather transforms the taste of the crops, making them more flavorful than you can imagine. We love our greens - my oldest son will devour an entire plate of spinach, and all of my kids adore mee pad, a dish of noodles, greens and tofu. We really do eat greens several times a day, with most meals, and consider ourselves richer for it. We’re weird, though.

Most Americans don’t derive from a greens eating culture, and we’re not sure what to do with multiple bunches of greens - unless you are southern and cook them with pork (not in my kosher home - but I don’t feel the loss, since there are plenty of wonderful non-pork ways to cook greens), you probably eat greens once or twice a week - mostly in salad. So changing our agriculture to focus on local food has to start at the table.

And may be the most basic truth about food I can think of. The simple fact is that if we’re ever to change our agriculture, the initiative cannot primarily come from farmers - farming pays too badly for your average farmer to subsidize the tastes of their customers. It has to work the other way around, starting at our dinners. That is, if we want a society where our food is safe and grown in a non-violent, non-destructive way, we have to eat in a non-violent, non-destructive way, in tune with the reality of the place we live in.

It is easy to believe that the great transformative acts are about marching and voting, but our power to alter the nature of our agriculture is firmly located at our tables. When we reject corporate food and look locally, when we learn to cook and eat what is native to our place and can be grown by our farmers, when we insist of creating a local cuisine, we not only eat better, but we make what may be the most central necessary change in our lives - we create food security.

More brussels sprouts anyone?

Sharon

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Two recipes for Greens that Everyone Will Eat

1. Any Green with Sweet Soy and Mushroom Sauce

Steam or sautee as much of your favorite green as you can cram in a pan for as long as necessary to get it to the just tender stage. For something like brussels sprouts or kale stems this might take a bit, for tender greens like spinach, just seconds. Add a tablespoon or two each of Mushroom “oyster” sauce (or the real stuff if you like it) and Kecap Manis, or sweet soy sauce. Eat over rice. This is especially delicious with cabbage or kailaan (chinese broccoli).

2. Any greens with lime dressing

Steam a good bit of greens until just tender, or a little longer in the case of brussels sprouts (don’t let them get to the grey stage though). Make a dressing of the juice of half a lime, soy or fish sauce (as you prefer), a little water, honey or sugar, and hot sauce or chili garlic paste. You can make the proportions anything you like - more sour and hot, or more salty and sweet. The idea is to create a balance you like. The Vietnamese version of this dressing tends to be salty and sour, the Thai version sweet and hot. We like it both ways. This is the best way on earth to eat brussels sprouts, but is good on nearly anything. And no, the sauces aren’t local, but you only use a tiny bit of them at a time.

Cheers!

20 Responses to “52 Weeks Down - Week 25 - Change your Diet”

  1. Anonymouson 04 Nov 2007 at 11:27 pm

    This makes me so excited for the winter CSA we just signed up for for the first time! Now I need to seek out and try out recipes. Our southern New England winter offerings are 6 of the following weekly:

    arugula, kale, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, green onions, collards, radishes, apples, beets, turnips, tomatoes, broccoli, winter squash, and cauliflower; plus apple or pear cider

    Plus, local meat, eggs, honey, maple syrup, and whatever else we can find at the farmers’ market until they close at the end of December.

    But like you said, I don’t see lots of folks in our families eating like this. But hey, if I can win my own immediate family over, that’s already a start, right?

  2. bethon 05 Nov 2007 at 12:24 am

    My CSA sold out quickly of their winter share. I would have gotten a share if I had had the cash.

    Now, I really don’t like brussel sprouts ( I love most other veggies) but I am commited to eating seasonally, locally and well. Learning to love brussel sprouts is a comparatively pleasant task in this crazy world.

    I am working on the full family love fest with greens, it will take time, we’ll get there.

  3. Anonymouson 05 Nov 2007 at 1:59 am

    Our CSA went to a week by week pricing of individual veggies after the regular season.

    Last week was the first week post-season. They still had kale, various winter squash, onions, green tomatoes, various peppers, turnips, radishes, and honey. I was delighted. Apparently, I was the only member to show up for the first optional week…

    This week, our CSA was kind enough to sell me more of the above and a gallon of honey. I wish I knew how to convince other members to eat what is available locally and seasonally so that our CSA can reasonably extend the season!

    Thanks Sharon for explaining the reasoning from a farmer’s perspective.

    Tina

  4. Anonymouson 05 Nov 2007 at 3:30 am

    I’m excited to say that we’ve recently located and joined a CSA and –yahoo! — they do a winter share and raise poultry, pastured beef and pigs. One can also grind wheat there. We start on Tuesday, it will go bi-weekly over the winter months, and we’re going to see what it’s like eating as locally as we can and as seasonally as we can over the winter now.

    By the way, this local eating thing gave me pause recently at a Sunday School teachers’ meeting when it was suggested that we could bring in our empty cans for some collection or other and I realized that I don’t have any cans anymore! That felt strange…but in a good way.

    Susan in Ontario

  5. Anonymouson 05 Nov 2007 at 3:31 am

    I’m delighted to learn that greens can be grown in the winter in New England and upstate NY. We plan to move to that area in the near future and greens are an important part of our daily diet. Haven’t decided yet where we will move in particular, but we know we have to move north and away from So. FL. We’ve been researching Vermont (Burlington area — land kind of pricey!) and St. Lawrence, Franklin and Albany counties in NY, more affordable.

    Would any of you know if there is much difference between the climate of Albany and Franklin counties in terms of growing food organically? I’ve been monitoring the temperatures and it looks like Albany County is 5 to 10 degrees warmer. Is this correct?

    ~Vegan/Leaving So.FL

  6. Green Beanon 05 Nov 2007 at 3:46 am

    Thank you for sharing this from the CSA’s perspective. I don’t have a CSA share but do all of my produce shopping at the farmer’s market. This is the first year that we are really trying to eat seasonally. My husband keeps asking me if we can do it and your post just inspires me all the more. I just need to learn some different dishes which include winter stuff - greens are easy, I love them! I’m lucky enough to be in Northern California so this shouldn’t be too far of a stretch. Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. LimeSarahon 05 Nov 2007 at 1:47 pm

    We get the first installment of our winter share in two weeks. I’m envious of you people who get winter shares weekly…we get a bushel in November and a bushel in December. We haven’t figured out yet how we’re getting it home!

    Soup and dumplings both use up vast quantities of greens and are delicious in cold weather. Roasting kale with no extra water results in it going all crispy and popcorn-like; almost all the kids at the CSA potluck the week it was served liked it :-)

  8. Rosaon 05 Nov 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you for this post, Sharon. And for the recipes. I think my partner is bored with greens-with-italian-seasoning, it’s good to have something else to try.

    We would eat fresh local greens all year if we could find them. Maybe I need to try harder. I had planned on growing late-season kale this year but I was so overwhelmed in September I never got it planted.

  9. homebrewlibrarianon 05 Nov 2007 at 5:25 pm

    I love brussels sprouts! Here in Alaska all the CSAs are done until next June (!) but the one I joined will continue to do weekly sales of their excess root vegetables until they sell out. But no brussels sprouts! And no greens either, alas. I stocked up on as many turnips, beets and potatoes I could get my hands on and blanched/froze pounds of greens during the season. For some reason, winter squashes do poorly up here and I think that the season just isn’t long or warm enough for them.

    For various reasons, Alaska hasn’t seen a great deal of growth in CSAs. Some of it is the weather but I think a lot of it has to do with a pretty small population mostly concentrated in three cities. The CSA I joined gets filled up pretty quickly every year but their season ends in early October. I’ve talked to them about winter sales but have been told the demand for those types of vegetables (cabbages and roots mostly) isn’t all that high.

    Eating seasonally is still not the norm in these parts and eating locally even less so. Sometimes I feel like I’m the lone voice in the wilderness but I keep seeking out local food opportunities. Since I’m committed to living in Alaska, making sure there’s local food is a huge concern. I’m delighted that there are CSAs that are offering winter shares and dearly wish that there’s enough support for them to continue to provide that service. Would that we could have that service here!

    Kerri

  10. Saraon 05 Nov 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Oh, we got brussel sprouts in our CSA box this week, so I cooked and ate them for the first time ever and dang, they’re GOOD!

    Steamed, with a little salt and pepper and some fresh dill (also from the CSA box).

    I’ve really been enjoying getting to try new things from the CSA box, which is something of an achievement for me, since I have a near-pathological hatred of new foods (I just keep telling myself, “It’s a vegetable. It won’t bite.”) Though my “heck, it’s here, I WILL cook it” approach has hit a few bumps, like the mystery greens I put in a stir-fry that turned out to be…broadleaf Italian parsley.

    Oh, well, that’s what hot sauce is for….

  11. thriftwizardon 05 Nov 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Try curly kale stir-fried to crispiness with a little garlic and soy sauce - an optional shake of sesame seeds adds a pleasant crunch. Much-loved by all my kids - and me, too!

    And what about leeks? They grow well all winter over here, and much further North too. Delicious lightly steamed as a standalone vegetable; excellent in soups & stews too.

  12. Deb Gon 06 Nov 2007 at 3:39 am

    I’ve recently fallen in love with broccoli pesto. Use about 3 cups broccoli plus all the usual stuff. Yummy with pasta, rice, in soup….

  13. Leilaon 06 Nov 2007 at 1:58 pm

    For recipe ideas, I swear by Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” It’s intended to be a resource for meat-eaters, too - hence the title.

    Anyway, the recipes in this book are often quite simple, always inventive and flavorful. If you have some produce item on hand, you can look it up and usually find a range of options, from most basic (i.e. steam and serve with sesame oil) to more elaborate.

    My problem with her “Greens” cookbook of a dozen years ago was that the recipes were usually too fussy and took too much work for daily cooking. This book fixes that problem.

    It also includes terrific recipes for salsas and sauces - not your traditional French classics, but the new ones we all would rather eat.

    I didn’t think our family’s diet was absolutely perfect, but my kids do like greens (we eat ‘em every day) and they LOVE sweet potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli and potatoes. So I must be doing something right…

    Even Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine has a recipe for greens with pasta this month. I would still check with Deborah Madison first however.

  14. jewishfarmeron 06 Nov 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Leila, thanks for the recommendation of Madison’s cookbook - I own the “Greens” book, and it is ok, so hadn’t paid much attention to the raves VCFE got. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for a copy.

    Deb, broccoli pesto sounds terrific, as do many of the other suggestions on this thread! Do you add basil/herbs too, or use brocc instead of?

    Sharon

  15. Heather Gon 07 Nov 2007 at 4:21 am

    I’m curious, Sharon. It’s good to know how many types of greens can grow into the winter season besides kale, and you also mention root vegetables, but what about pumpkins and the squashes? Do you not talk about them because they don’t grow well where you live?

    Although I’m not heavily into squash (yet), we do have some because at the right temps you can store them in their own skins until you’re ready to use one in a meal. I’m a big fan of any veggie I don’t have to do a lot of work preserving for the winter. Some types store for longer than others, at least in our place, but for instance butternut squash can make it through the winter if stored correctly. Pumpkins are a bit more sensitive, only good for a few months here. Acorn and buttercup seem to do pretty well.

    Of course they’re all orange veggies and we need greens too, but it’s nice to have some of both during the winter, plus the root veggies.

    Just curious…

  16. Jessica at Bwlchyrhydon 07 Nov 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for this post and making me feel not quite so insane! We are not completely self-sufficient in veg yet, but what we do buy is only local produce that we could (and will) be growing ourselves.

    We have a WWOOFer here at the moment, and the first night he was here, we explained the food we eat, etc., and that the tomatoes finished several weeks ago. The following day I was setting out bread, cheese, etc., for lunch, and he asked if we had any tomatoes! I explained again that the tomatoes finished several weeks ago and took out a jar of green tomato chutney — and his response was to be shocked that we didn’t buy tomatoes! I explained AGAIN that we only eat seasonal food…

    What is needed is some way of making the non-converted understand this concept, because I feel like I am spending a large chunk of my life explaining it to people, and they keep not understanding, so perhaps I am explaining something wrong? I just don’t know how much simpler I can make it…

  17. jewishfarmeron 07 Nov 2007 at 1:06 pm

    I don’t mention pumpkins, squash or other cellarable root crops because they don’t actually *grow* here in the winter (carrots, parsnips and turnips can), and at present, I don’t have the space to cellar/store these crops all winter for many customers - we have too many stored for ourselves.

    So I already give my customers large quantities of these things in the fall, with the expectation that they will store them themselves. I suppose I could grow more, keep them and deliver them weekly to people without the space to store them, but most of my customers aren’t apartment dwellers or that pressed for space, and I generally just explain how to do it yourself. But the investment in time and energy to make appropriate space to store and preserve them is greater than I presently want to undertake. And it feels more like being a produce stand than a grower ;-). Which wouldn’t necessarily stop me, of course, but it seems a little strange to distribute out weekly what any person could perfectly well get in larger quantities and store themselves. Still it is something to think about.

    We make quite a lot of use of root cellaring for ourselves - 12-15 bushels of apples included, so we don’t have a ton of extra space for it.

    Sharon

  18. Heather Gon 07 Nov 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Ah, so combination of limited storage and type of customers in your area. We’re going to have to work on being able to store more ourselves, next year — there’s an old root cellar at the farm that’s fallen out of use and needs repair. So, we don’t have quite enough storage space of the right type yet — fortunately the local supermarkets are carrying local fall produce right now, and likely will be for another month or so. It’ll be a nice supplement to our diet whenever we have the space.

    Thanks!

  19. jasmineon 28 Nov 2007 at 4:31 pm

    I considered myself lucky to find brussell sprouts at my local year round market and paid dearly for them — I wish more farmer’s grew them and not a one of the farmer’s in this area seems to grow parsnips. I wish my CSA would grow them.

  20. Jessica at Bwlchyrhydon 28 Nov 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Jasmine — am I correct in thinking that you live in Texas? I think parsnips prefer a cooler climate…

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