[Eating local in summer is one thing, when quality produce is just a farmer’s market away. But what about in the cold winter months? photo: Thinkstock]
Trying to reduce your food miles? You are not alone! The farm-to-table movement has grown in popularity in Canada and people are increasingly trying to buy local to help the environment, support local farmers and get the freshest, healthiest foods. That may seem easy in summer, when farmer’s markets abound and are full of lush, colourful fruit and vegetables. But what can Canadians do in winter, when the fields are blanketed in snow? How can we continue to eat local produce in the Canadian winter?
First, we can look at what is in season locally. Believe it or not, there are still quite a few vegetables and some fruits that are available fresh in the winter. Apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, onions, carrots, cabbage, turnip, garlic and beets are all examples of produce that can be harvested in the autumn and will stay fresh through winter in cold storage. These vegetables are nutrition power-houses and they are so versatile. Try Maple-Balsamic Roasted Winter Vegetables. Maple syrup, which is available year-round is a wonderful addition to many recipes and it is a great Canada-produced alternative to sugar as a sweetener. Although it does have just as many calories as sugar, it also contains some minerals and many antioxidants.
Another option is to look indoors. Greenhouse-grown produce like lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes are all available during the Canadian winter. Mushrooms are available year-round and did you know that rhubarb is grown fresh in Ontario January through June? Amazing! Forced winter rhubarb is grown in the dark, in well-insulated barns and it is sweeter because the lack of sunlight does not allow the more bitter green aspects of the plant to develop, and the winter rhubarb is a deep, sweet, red. Got green fingers? Even if you are an urban-dweller you can still grow local indoors in winter. Consider a kitchen herb garden or try spouting at home.
Your options for local produce also depend on where in Canada you live. Southern, coastal British Columbia has a longer growing season than the rest of Canada, so those in the lower mainland can expect to harvest kale, broccoli and leeks in the winter, while those living in Saskatchewan may have to wait until spring for fresh, local fruits and vegetables. That may be the reason why canning and preserving, which is making a comeback across Canada, was never out of fashion in the prairies. This is a wonderful way to have access to local produce all year round, with a big cost savings too! You can buy summer fruits like peaches when they are in season and inexpensive, can them, and then enjoy them on a cold winter day.
Don’t hesitate to also look for frozen fruits and vegetables. You can freeze your own, or buy frozen fruit and veg at your local supermarket. Freezing preserves the nutrition in fruit and vegetables very well. Do check, however, to ensure that the frozen produce you are buying is Canadian-grown.
There are so many ways to continue to enjoy eating local in Canada, year-round. It is good for the planet, good for you and good for the local economy too.
Dr. Pamela Fergusson is a Registered Dietitian and registered Public Health Nutritionist based in Toronto, Ont.