Playing the Long Game – Locavore Challenge

September 14, 2012 at 9:05 am

This is the time of year when our friends at Green City Market encourage Chicago area eaters to go locavore. For their Locavore Challenge, they ask us to “pledge to eat only local food, to the best of their ability, during that week.” Now, you may think I’m about to go cynical here. That myself and my Local Family pledge to do our best to eat local food every week, but I’m not going to go there. No. I fully support what Green City Market is doing, and I see much value with revving people’s locavore engines by challenging them. I just think that it’s also time to play the long game.

As I’m also Editor of the Local Beet, I can tell you that next week we will re-run our popular and useful guide to preserving the seasonal bounty. As you can see from these freezer shots, the Local Family has been preserving the seasonal bounty for a while. We’ve put away, in our large freezer, asparagus, greens, sweet corn and a lot of berries.  We’ve also started accumulating a lot of onions and garlic (our Tomato Mountain CSA* has been way flush in them).  Still, the long game is really only starting now.  That’s why we’re putting back up our guide to preserving the seasonal bounty.

Now is time to play the long game for a few reasons.  First, this is peak harvest season.  For the next several weeks the markets will be as ample as they’ll ever be.  You will find the final surges of summer crops, all those peppers and eggplants and zukes and cukes and especially tomatoes that will miss the day they are gone.  In addition, we’re getting the first waves of cool weather crops: hard squash, potatoes and roots, and all the variations of the cabbage family.  Really, who can eat it all?  Putting it away is not just about having local food all year round.  It is an imperative for dealing with the seasonal bounty.  The second reason to play the long game now is that nature tells us to.  Nature encourages us to.  Nature makes it a lot more possible to.  We cannot play the long game as much during the summer because it’s too hot to use our root cellars.  We cannot play the long game in the summer because the versions of apples and potatoes and onions are not designed for long term storage. Starting now, we have the crops for storage, and starting now we have more conditions for storage.

I’m asked often, how can  you remain a Local Family in the winter.  I always have an easy answer. We eat from foods put away and we eat from foods we find at winter markets (and from our winter CSA).  It’s something that’s worked for many years.  What I get asked less often, why do you remain a Local Family in the winter.  Generally, I’ve proclaimed that if you believe in the reasons to eat local, you should believe in those reasons all the time.  Hence, the need to eat local all seasons.  That may be logically compelling, but is it enough?  Let me tell you flat out, I enjoy playing the long game.

I relish the long game.  I’ll admit there’s just something fun about staying local all winter.  Meet the locavore challenge in September and you’ve done something, but meet the locavore challenge in February, you’ve really done something.  Yet, are we talking the Alps.  Do we do it just because it is there.  I can tell you there are many more good reasons to play the long game:

  • It tastes better – There’s no doubt that the kinds of food we eat in the winter; frost-kissed, hoophouse spinach, frozen local berries, canned tomatoes, a wealth of storage crops are more delicious than the tired, flown in produce found at the supermarkets.
  • The variety is vast – There is a feeling that winter eating gnaws down to a bare bone pantry of onions and turnips.  That’s not just true.  For one thing, there’s a huge range of storage crops.  For another thing, we’re getting more and more options these days from sustainable indoor production.  Also, remember, that with a bit of care and pro-action, we’re eating grapes and tomatoes and pepper well into Autumn.  This keeps the boredom and scarcity further away.
  • The variety is vast – There’s also a feeling that winter foods lend themselves to few preparations.  Like we can only eat boiled potatoes.  Winter foods, however, lend themselves to multiple preparations, hot and cold.  For instance, many root vegetable can be grated for winter salads.  We love to take advantage of apples in many ways.  They go in lunch bags.  They get baked into pies.  They get fried into side dishes, and they get chopped into salads.  We don’t get bored thinking of what to do during the winter, even if all we have are apples.
  • We save money – At peak time, we find foods at their cheapest.  Putting away a lot now is a nice investment towards spending less money later.
  • Eating seasonally makes sense – In the heat of the summer we like to rely on endless Greek salads.  Come cold, we want hearty, warming foods.  When everything is eaten in its time, it tastes special and valuable, and, obviously it makes the first shoots and leaves at the end of winter taste that much better.

In the coming weeks, the Local Beet will be encouraging you to go beyond the Locavore Challenge by playing the long game.  We’ll re-post our various guides and resources to help you play, and I’ll be telling you how well the Local Family is playing.

*My wife works for Tomato Mountain