#6. Buy in season and learn to preserve or store produce
It is February/March in the Northeast and there is nothing “in season” ( i.e., that is being harvested now) to buy, but there is a great deal in season to eat. The cold winters here are perfect for hot and hearty meals. The vegetables that are grown locally are still abundant in our stores and farmers’ markets. They are the vegetables that store well – winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, Brussels spouts, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, beets, and even some kale or collards. Not only does the weather get colder and days shorter in the winter, but our bodies have cycles, too. When you eat with the season, the food is fresher and has warming power to get you through the cold months or the cooling effect you are thankful for in the heat. Foods are also much more economical when you buy what is in season. When you buy asparagus at Christmas or turnips in June, you can be sure they have traveled a long way to your market.
So what about having a supply of fresh or home-preserved vegetables and fruit on hand all year? The most obvious advantage is fewer trips to the market. There is almost always a savings when you buy a large quantity directly from the farmer. Of course, if you grow your own food, it is less expensive still. Having abundant produce on hand year round increases the probability that you will eat all that nutritious food. There is really no disadvantage.
There are many methods to preserve food. For vegetables the most common are freezing and canning. The main drawback of these methods from an energy standpoint is that they both use considerable energy. Canning uses large amounts of water and heat (washing the produce, sterilizing the jars and lids, cooking the vegetables and then either a water bath for 10 – 15 minutes of boiling water or a pressure cooker). Freezing produce takes much less in the beginning, just a quick blanching, but electricity is used to keep the vegetables frozen. Dehydration is another preservation method. It uses the energy up front to power a dehydrator. Once thoroughly dry, the fruit or vegetable can be stored at room temperature in glass jars. A brief time is needed to rehydrate the food when you are ready to use it. The other advantage to drying food is saving space. With the water removed the food is one-quarter to one-tenth its original size. This method is great for vegetables used in soups, fruit pieces or leathers. However, the fall vegetables above can just “hang out”, “sit around” in their own skin and be eaten raw or cooked when you want to use them. This is simply called “storing”.
If you are a gardener, many of these root crops can be kept in the ground with heavy mulch. When you are ready to harvest, you remove the mulch (and snow!) and the unfrozen ground holds your root vegetable in cold storage. You can also dig or pull the roots and put them in five gallon buckets with sand or compost. The buckets can then be stored in a cold place like an unheated garage. Care must be taken to keep the produce from freezing.
Other vegetables like it cold but not damp. Onions, garlic and potatoes store well in baskets in a 35-45 degree place, out of the light. Some others, like winter squash and pumpkins, can just be kept at about 55-65 degrees (a cool spot in your home) with no special treatment. Skins should be clean and free from dirt. In the right storage conditions, most fall produce will last right into spring and early summer. By then you will be glad to have the asparagus and spinach and so will your body. Then all spring, summer and fall, adopt the "fresh is best" attitude and enjoy local produce as soon as it comes onto the market and as long as it is available.