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Javajournal February 2012

As we near the midpoint of winter, are you missing the smells, colors and tastes of fresh, locally grown vegetables, herbs and fruit? It seems like just a short time ago that local farmers markets, roadside stands and even major grocery stores carried the bounty of the St. Louis area harvest season. For those of you who regularly buy local fresh produce, your fresh, winter commercial options just do not compare.
Our area is blessed with a long and plentiful outdoor growing season that provides a huge variety of vegetable, herb and fruit options. Now that winter has arrived, locally grown produce is limited to those items that can be grown in greenhouses. The cold of winter severely reduces the supply and types of available locally grown vegetables and herbs and eliminates fresh fruit completely.

While a number of local farmers and growers use these methods for cold weather products, there are just a very few in the area. You may find locally grown lettuces, spinach and mustards now, but expect limited quantities and higher prices. The same is true of hydroponically grown vegetables and herbs. In short, our winters restrict produce production to a tiny fraction of the typical outdoor season.
If you still want fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit, your local grocery store is about your only option. As you shop, you will see beautiful produce departments with multiple colors and textures, but not necessarily the taste you expect. The reason is the source of the products and the distance from the grocery shelves. At this time of year, some of what is on display comes from our warmer states, but the majority comes from just south of the border and into parts of South America.
These extreme distances add days and sometimes weeks to the final delivery to our grocery shelves. The distance also limits the quality of vegetables to varieties that are grown for their stability during transportation. As you might expect, both of these factors will affect the product’s taste as it ages during transportation and storage.
So how does your favorite farm-to-table, local restaurant cope during the winter? They, too, are limited to basically the same products that you see at your grocery store. Without the local sources for their vegetables, herbs and fruit, their options are limited—which does change their winter menus. A few of these restaurants use growers with winter growing methods or will special order products from their commercial suppliers. However, most cannot justify the added costs and just wait out the winter and pray for spring.
For those who value organic products, the same is true of produce sold by your favorite national organic/natural retailer. They, too, are affected by winter, with the majority of their organic products being imported from Central and South America. And the distance has the same effect in the overall shelf quality of the products. They look nice—with good color and texture—but they just don’t taste the same as fresh locally grown.
Now might be a good time for you to experiment with sprouts or micro-greens. Both are easy to grow in your kitchen and require a mason jar, sprouting tray or hemp bag. In a matter of days you can grow yourself as many tasty and nutritious sprouts for salads, sandwiches or soups. The varieties and mixes are endless, inexpensive and fun to grow. There is a great deal of information available on the internet about the growing process and companies that sell seed and growing products.
With two more months of winter, home gardeners should be planning for their 2012 harvest. Take the time to research new varieties and learn more about what grows best in this climate.  Start your Sunday morning with your coffee and your keyboard and surf the net to learn more about mizuna, lovage and mache. 
Explore the hundreds of varieties of radishes and pick a few that you haven’t tried before for this year’s garden. Learn about the differences among the hundreds of pepper or tomato varieties. The information is all there. The major seed suppliers do a very good job in describing their products. And for the thrifty, now is the time to check out the clearance seeds that many seed companies are either discontinuing or making available to reduce their inventories.      
My growing plan is nearly complete and starting seed begins now. Early planning is essential to a successful growing season. Shopping online will provide you with not only loads of valuable information, but the photos and page displays will make you think and feel spring. It will brighten your spirits for the rest of the winter. It always works for me!  ?

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