When we think of buying local, we think of farmers markets on sunny days and peak-of-the-season produce. But in Pennsylvania, those days are numbered. The season winds down with apples, pumpkins, and winter squash, and then we’re too busy planning for the holidays to make the extra effort to support our local farms.
While we may not think of buying local for months, farmers are hard at work all year. If they’re not sowing or harvesting, they're making plans to feed you for the upcoming season. And as it happens, many farms have homegrown products available through the winter.
This is especially true for animal farmers, who might care for livestock year-round. Even if a farm puts production on hold until the spring, they likely have a freezer chock full of pastured meat from the warmer, greener months. Frozen meat may not be ideal for the discerning cook, but it's non-negotiable for the independent, pasture-based farm that doesn’t have a guaranteed customer at the time of slaughter.
Download Pittsburgh's Guide to Ethical Farms to find a farm to support.
When farmers do raise livestock through the winter, their daily tasks revolve around keeping the animals fed, watered, and warm. In especially cold temperatures, breaking up ice in the watering troughs is a critical and constant chore. Compared to the summer, farmers also spend more time transporting feed in the winter, since the pastures cannot provide as much nutrition in the cold months. Get a glimpse of what ethical farming in the winter looks like, in our video below.
Fallen Aspen Farm is one of Pennsylvania's ethical farms raising animals through the winter.
Fortunately, animal farmers can supplement a winter diet with feed that more closely resembles what they might forage for on pasture, thanks to indoor fodder technology. Sprouting fodder produces what is essentially microgreens for farm animals. Not only does supplementing the traditional winter diet with fodder mimic a pasture-based diet better than hay and grains alone, sprouted fodder is nutrient-dense and takes just days to harvest.
On produce farms, season extension methods like greenhouses and hoop houses allow farms to begin production earlier in the year and stretch the growing season into the winter. Farms might also employ hydroponic technology to grow pristine greens and herbs indoors year-round, no soil required.
Preserving the harvest is yet another way that farms can provide local food for as much of the year as possible. Root cellars enable farmers to successfully store hardier produce (like apples, squashes, and root vegetables) for a few months. Farmers with access to commercial kitchens can even turn their harvest into shelf-stable foods through canning, so even in the winter you can purchase sauces, condiments, and jams from locally grown produce.
Legume Bistro in Pittsburgh uses several preservation methods—canning, fermenting, pickling—that allow them to serve local produce year-round.
Winter is also the time to sign up for a CSA share. Community Supported Agriculture is a model of farming whereby a person purchases, in advance, a share of the farm’s harvest. Because farms need the most funds before they even start planting, your support in winter helps them be in the best shape possible for the upcoming season: prepping the fields, planning their crops, and ordering seeds. Some farms offer discounts or special offers for early sign-ups. There’s even the internationally celebrated CSA Day, an event highlighting Community Supported Agriculture by encouraging people to join a local CSA. Check out csaday.info for a directory of participating farms that may be offering CSA Day promotions.
Winter is not a time to forget about your local farmer; in fact, it can be the perfect time to get acquainted with farms in your area or get a head start on the summer by signing up for a CSA. You eat year-round. Why not support a local farm year-round, too?