It is now March and farmers’ markets have nothing new to offer; if anything, the selection is sparser. February and March represent a turning point in local foods. Most of what is available harkens back to the labors of the past year, but our farmers already have begun growing for this coming year.
At the end of a bitterly cold winter, the farmers’ market still offers local food because our farmers have planned carefully, starting at this time last year. Back Acres Farm, selling at the Northside Farmers Market, planted hundreds of feet of potatoes last spring and onions last summer, in order to have them available to us over winter. Other farmers spent the fall drying herbs and hot peppers, canning pickles and jams, and grinding wheat into flour—preparing for the coldest months. Some vendors have invested in heated greenhouses where they have grown lettuce and other greens all winter.
Despite lingering cold temperatures, longer days and the warming soil of March bring a bustle of activity to local farms. As a culture we tend to expect fresh produce much later in the spring, but in fact this time of year marks the beginning of the new growing season.
On a recent visit to Carriage House Farm, another Northside Farmers Market vendor, farmer Kate Cook showed me around her high tunnel (pictured). A high tunnel is a greenhouse of thick plastic stretched over a series of arching hoops. Most farms use at least one of these to warm up soil faster and begin planting sooner. Kate has hundreds of seedlings ready to plant into the hoop house, where they will grow into the first greens of the season. During my visit, Kate’s infectious excitement over transplanting the first peas of 2014 made me envy her work in the sun-warmed hoop house.
The more effort we as a community make to include products from the winter market in our diet, the better we can support our farmers to bridge seasons. The next time you stop by a farmers’ market, ask your farmer about the steps of getting their current offerings to the table, and about the work they are doing to bring spring vegetables back to the market. Let’s appreciate the change in seasons by becoming more aware of how local farms produce our food.
By Ana Bird
Ana Bird works at Northside Farmers Market as Market Manager, and at Imago, as program coordinator in environmental education, and authors Cincinnati food blog Our Local Kitchen. She also teaches youth ballet classes at UC and Baker Hunt Cultural Center.