local winter produce abounds at st. louis winter markets and csas. photo by jonathan gayman

Eat local year-round with winter produce in St. Louis

We’ve bid farewell to #tomatoseason until next year, but just because the delights of summer have disappeared from farmers markets doesn’t mean you should take a hiatus from enjoying local produce. Think of it like swapping out your closet at the end of the summer, trading breezy sundresses for warm sweaters. 

Farmers continue to produce through a good chunk of the fall and winter, harvesting a whole new set of ingredients to play with in the kitchen. 

You’ve got your brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts) and winter squashes (acorn, butternut, pumpkin). 

You’ve got cooking greens (collards, chard, mustard and turnip greens) and Asian greens (bok choys, Chinese cabbage). 

You’ve got root vegetables in every hue (carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas, sunchokes, potatoes, sweet potatoes), as well as alliums (garlic, onion, leeks and shallots) and mushrooms. 

Arugula and spinach make an appearance early in the season. Apples, harvested in late summer, can be cellared and enjoyed for months. 

photo by jonathan gayman

“Many people don’t know the seasonality of the food they eat because you can get almost anything at the grocery store at any time,” said Sara Hale, who co-founded Fair Shares CCSA in 2007. “Most people are surprised to learn broccoli is a fall and spring vegetable.”

When you incorporate more local ingredients into your cooking repertoire, your kitchen naturally falls into a seasonal rhythm that keeps things fresh and can be a major source of inspiration. 

Cat Dunsford, a farm systems coordinator at EarthDance Organic Farm School in Ferguson, said she’s learned numerous new ways to use produce in her two years with the farm. 

“Trying out different ways to prepare things is key – I didn’t like kale until I learned to prepare it with lemon juice, olive oil and salt,” she said. 

Read More // Tower Grove Farmers' Market makes indoor winter market weekly

Local ingredients are also fresher than those transported a long way before landing in the grocery store – a benefit no matter the weather (not to mention the difference in greenhouse gas emissions). 

“The more miles your produce travels, the more nutrients it loses,” said Schlafly Farmers Market manager Ally Conner.

At Local Harvest Grocery in Tower Grove, for instance, produce is often delivered to the store the very same day it’s harvested, said manager Becca Widzer, who also manages Local Harvest’s weekly CSA program. 

Plus, local small farmers tend to be good stewards of the land as opposed to big ag farms, said Hale, who became active in the local food movement in 2004 after attending a Slow Food event in Torino, Italy. 

EarthDance, for example, practices organic and regenerative food production and is focused on keeping the soil nutritionally rich. This translates to more nutrient-dense food. 

“We do minimal tilling and try not to mess with the soil because when you dig, you kill the fungi, bacteria and insects that contribute to the health of the soil,” Dunsford said. In addition to growing food for local markets, EarthDance also offers classes on growing and preserving food at home. 

There are a few different ways to get your hands on winter produce. You can join a year-round CSA, which will do the work of sourcing local ingredients for you. All you have to do is pick up your share. Fair Shares and Local Harvest are both combined CSAs, meaning they source from many different farmers and producers. 

You can also check out Local Harvest’s grocery store, which works with as many as 20 farmers throughout the year to source produce.

And don’t forget the farmers markets. From November through April, the Ferguson Farmers Market offers indoor markets from 9 a.m. to noon on the third Sunday of each month at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. 

Another option is the Schlafly Winter Market, held one Saturday a month and twice in December. In addition to produce, shoppers can find local meat, eggs, bread, preserves and more. Schlafly’s market is outdoors but always includes a bonfire, hot cocoa and s’mores.  

photo by jonathan gayman

How to Cook with Winter Produce

Look for new ways to use ingredients.
Sure, winter squash is delicious roasted and sprinkled with brown sugar. But it’s also a natural fit for a pureed coconut curry soup or stuffed with lamb gyro meat and greens, said Hale. “Try adding or substituting the winter produce into your favorite recipes,” she said. For example, Dunsford loves burritos stuffed with kale, sweet potatoes and black beans – not exactly your typical burrito ingredients but delicious, nonetheless.

Fake a salad.
If you miss lighter dishes during the cold months and find raw winter greens too tough and fibrous, learn to fake it by shredding collards, kale and similar greens. Toss them with salad dressing and let them sit while you prepare the rest of your meal, and you’ll be able to eat it like a tender greens summer salad, Hale suggested.

Add brightness.
If you miss the freshness of summer, season ingredients with vinegars or citrus juices. Dunsford likes to saute root vegetables and season them with sherry, rice vinegar or soy sauce.

When in doubt, roast.
“I love spaghetti squash roasted with butter, salt and pepper,” Dunsford said. “Whenever our members are less than excited about a vegetable, I tell them to chop it up, combine it with other veggies, add lots of garlic and toss it with olive oil and salt, then roast it to within an inch of its life – for at least an hour at 400 or 450 degrees, stirring every 20 or 30 minutes. The result is rich, caramelized amazingness,” said Hale.

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