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Spring Fever

(post, Leta Merrill)

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After getting off from work a little early yesterday, I decided to treat myself to an outdoor picnic in the early Spring sunshine in Union Square in New York City. I headed into Whole Foods and downstairs to the produce section. On the wall, a poster declared the benefits of purchasing local produce. Inspired, I thought I'd give this "local" thing a try. My eyes were immediately attracted to the bright colored fruit directly below the "eat local" sign. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries tantalized with their enchanting sparkle. Wait a second, strawberries, in March, in New York? Maybe Spring came to Whole Foods before it visited the rest of the city. Turns out, the berries came to Whole Foods via Florida, Chile and California. Ok, so maybe the local produce was somewhere else, instead of in the obvious place under the giant sign. I searched on. After several laps around the produce section, and finding delicacies from as far away as Isreal, New Zealand and Peru, I finally found some bagged lettuce from Rhode Island and... Mexico. So apparently Rhode Island didn't grow enough lettuce to fill the bag, so they tossed it with some of Mexico's leftover greens. I've heard that one McDonald's hamburger can contain beef from as many as 200 different cows, but I had no idea that our vegetables were following suit. Not wanting to pick through the greens, to find the Rhode Island bits, I decided to try some strawberries from Florida. Florida was at least on the same coast as New York, so I decided it was an acceptable compromise. 

I brought my bright red strawberries into the sunshine and took a bite. Hmm....let's try one more bite. Ok, so my strawberries from Florida in March tasted like, well, water. Maybe Spring is Spring and I need to be a little more patient.

The next day, I strolled through the Union Square greenmarket. Now was my chance to try some local fare. New York hasn't seen too many above freezing days in the last six months, so farmer's are mostly selling apples from autumn that have stored well all winter, and root vegetables like potatoes, onions, and turnips. A bite out of a crisp potato in the sunshine didn't sound as appealing to me as the strawberries I had had the day before. 

So what to do? How could I satisfy my craving for Spring, but justify my purchases at the same time? I am finding that a combination of creativity, patience, and a little planning can go a long way. Instead of getting disappointed at the sea of brown during a winter's farmer's market, try purchasing a vegetable you have never tried before. I tried crosnes for the first time after trying to satisfy a craving for artichokes, but staying local at the same time. Unlike anything I had ever seen, the caterpillar-like tubers had a delightfully sweet flavor and crunchy texture that made Spring seem a mere hop, skip, and a jump away. 

Patience is tough, but when faced with the choice between watery strawberries now, or sweeter than sweet strawberries directly from the field on my next late Spring visit to Portland or California, it becomes a no-brainer. Why settle for sub-par flavor and nutrition all year round, when the diversity of each season can be celebrated one month at a time?

Planning ahead becomes most apparent during Winter when local, fresh options are truly limited when the ground is literally frozen solid. When tomatoes and zucchini and peppers are coming out of farmers' ears in the summer, try canning, freezing, or drying. Make spaghetti sauce and freeze it, or dehydrate tomatoes in the oven and use them for salads in December. Some farmers use alternative growing methods like hydroponics and greenhouses when the soil is unyielding or full of toxic remnants. These methods allow farmers to control nutrients and climate conditions all year round to produce plants out of season, but that are still eco-conscious. 

So why go through all the effort? Why should I go without during the winter, and restrict my purchases to those that come from my "backyard"? If my word isn't good enough, try checking out these organizations for more information:

Slow Food International
The Community Food Security Coalition
Sustainable Table
National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
The National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture
The Center for Food Safety
The Food Trust