Praying for Snow is Not the Answer

February 19, 2009 at 9:25 am

Rob Gardner

Getting ready to shovel snow this morning, I perused my sweater collection.  I have a lot of wool sweaters that I enjoy wearing, but the aesthetics of the sweaters don’t have me wanting to wear them by the start of March.  On the other hand, I need more cold weather.

People ask, how can you continue to eat local in a place like Chicago in the winter.  The answer is short: stored food and indoor farming.   We use several ways to store food.  We find farmer’s who grow indoors at our winter markets (like this one).  Those looking to improve and enhance local food availability tend to focus on the latter.  Build more hoophouses is the cry.  Well, yes, I’m all for some indoor crops, but I believe more, much more attention should be placed on storage crops.  Maintaining a root cellar in the sky is not the solution for local eating.

If you can keep certain foods, roots, potatoes, cabbage, apples, even pears, at around 40 degrees, they will last a very long time.  Last night we ate a salad with some well aged kohlrabi, and you would not have known if I did not tell you.  The need, obviously, is keeping your food cold.  Who has a root cellar.  This local family has solved the problem by figuring out that they have a cold spot in their bungalow, an un-heated attic.  How many others are so fortunate.  Yet our cellar in the sky stands vulnerable to warm-ups and by March will be useless (whatever food will be left will be moved to the basement or to our two fridges).   We, you, us, we need someone to store our food for us.

The path to greater local eating in Chicago begins with stored food.  We need firstly, farmers who farm not to sell in the markets that last until around October, but farmers who farm with the intention of having their goods sold from November through April.  Secondly, we need facilities and an infrastructure to hold and release these foods from November to April.  Really, the first issue is doable.  It’s just that about no area farmer is doing it.  It’s the second thing that’s stymying.  Some farmers have storage facilities, others do not.  Oriana, the Papple Lady, was telling me about a week ago that her pears would last if she had a way to keep them–I’m hoping she can find the funds to help build such storage.   I do not know the right answer to public storage, but I know we need some answer.

It then goes without saying that we need to eat more storage crops.  I’ve said that a few times already this winter already, no?  Listen, there’s no reason to be unhappy with a diet filled with roots and tubers and cabbage and Oriana’s papples.   Discover little used crops like burdock.   If there is demand, then farmers, entrepreneurs, will meet the demand.  Don’t make them make you make a root cellar.