It is Spring or the Season of Dread for the Illinois Locavore

March 20, 2013 at 9:33 am

Welcome to the Hungry Months

I’ve walked the dog. I can safely tell you, it does not feel like the first day of Spring. Yes, I prefer not to wear a parka on the first day of Spring, but the expected warm-up does not put me in a good mood. Rather, I dread what this time of year means to our eat local efforts. In this part of Illinois, we face three hurdles in our eat local challenge.

Stores Get Depleted

To have local food to eat during the winter, we put away food in the cold places in and around our Bungalow such as the onions pictured above. Better, this year, we have also relied on food put away from our CSA farm, Tomato Mountain*. No matter who does it and how well you do it, by April, you face the twin devils of simply having consumed what you had or losing what you did not consume. For instance, as I mentioned the other day, we had a good portion of local beets lost to the mold bug.  The biggest problem now is that there is little opportunity to replenish the stocks.

It’s Also a Market Problem

There is a sense that we have no Spring season in this part of the world; that it is way to early to plant.  It it is true that it will be a long way until we get peas, let alone asparagus–as noted in the last point, even longer this year.  Still, looking for what may be in season in warmer parts of the world is a short-sided way of finding local food in the Spring.  There is or there can be local food in late March, April and May in Chicago.  Farmers can harvest over-wintered roots, especially parsnips and carrots.  These mondo vegetables will be sweet from fighting the against the ground chill.  Other crops that can be easily over wintered are sunchokes and leeks.  The lengthening days of Spring also make it easier to get things from hoop houses, not just greens but harvests of radishes and other small roots like salad turnips.  Finally, there are all the wild or semi-wild things that let loose this time of year.  There was a time when people survived on these foraged crops.  From stinging nettles to dandelion greens, these items were also considered necessary to cleanse and detoxify the body from winter’s heft.  It’s there, the problem remains, how to get it.  How many markets are there in Spring in the Chicago area, and of the markets, how many have these Spring wonders.

Some Years are Worse

Remember, it’s climate change, not just global warming.  It was in the 80′s last year at this point.  We had a rampant asparagus crop by mid-April.  We won’t see that this year.  We won’t see that a lot of years.  In some ways, looking at the long game, I’m happier with this frigid Spring.  Last year we had early food. We also had late frost.

That was the cherry tree outside my window right about now, last year. After so many trees blossomed, they succumbed. We had a fraction of the local fruit we would normally have because of the odd weather. Believe me, we can wait.

The Local Family dreads, a bit, this time of year. Some of it is the fault of nature. A lot of it is the fault of the structure of our local food system. We’ll manage. We just won’t like it until it at least warms.