Still Going Strong


No type of pundit is more annoying to me than the food "realists," people like the Freakonomics guys or this guy, who seem to know nothing about growing food and precious little about cooking or eating it either, but feel qualified to make statements like this one:

First, how practical is local food sourcing in a nation that enjoys a diversity of food? From a practical standpoint, there isn’t much that can be grown in winter in most parts of the country.

Seriously.  I garden in Zone 4–pretty damned cold.  It is now November.  Yet, I was able to harvest the following from my garden this week:

  1. Fennel
  2. Carrots
  3. Potatoes
  4. Arugula
  5. Parsley
  6. Turnips
  7. Kohlrabi
  8. Cabbage
  9. Kale
  10. Collards
  11. Brussels sprouts
  12. Leeks
  13. Scallions
  14. Celeriac
  15. Parsnips
  16. Radishes
  17. Bok choy
  18. Sage

Every bit of it, so fresh and delicious, that even a Freakonomics writer without much of a palate might notice the quality and range of the food, in the unlikely event that I'd ever invite such uncongenial grumps to dinner.

The Brussels sprouts and kale will be there in the garden until Christmas.  I've got a root cellar for the parsnips, leeks, and celeriac.  I have pumpkins and potatoes galore already in my basement.  I'll make sauerkraut with the cabbages.  I've already made some pickles and relishes and frozen loads of tomatoes and tomatillos.  And the mache is already germinating in my garden…just waiting for that moment in March or April when the snow disappears and it will turn into a perfumy salad.

And I am admittedly many steps behind someone like El of Fast Grow the Weeds, who has two big unheated greenhouses that convert a Michigan winter into a mere speedbump.

The local apple farm manages to store apples and pears beautifully all winter long. As long as we can still ship in coffee and clementines, I don't see much problem with eating locally in winter, even in the Northeast and Midwest.


  1. I so agree with you! Growing our own food is as important as giving ourselves spaces to unwind and relax. We need to be more independent of other sources which will make us stronger!

  2. I don’t disagree at all on the topic of how much it is possible to grow locally and how with the development of improved procedures like aquaponics, Salatin style grazing etc local food production can skyrocket.

    I would say however that if the Freakonomics guys (for example) cast an eye over the CO2 output of local vs non-local food (for example) and find it comes up short we should acknowledge that.

    I think local food can more than compare with mass-produced non-local on all the measures I’m concerned with (environmental, efficiency, wildlife/biodiversity, health, taste, value) but to the extent someone can show it doesn’t (yet) we should acknowledge this not deny it.

    I’m not saying this is what you’re doing incidentally its just that seeing that article again reminded me of something that has been grating for a while….

  3. But tai haku, I actually read the academic paper Dubner cites by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, arguing against the greenhouse gas savings of eating locally.

    It completely fails by its own definitions! It points out that most of the greenhouse gas costs of food are associated with production methods, not transportation.

    And then it fails to take into account the vast differences between production methods! The difference between obscenely fossil fuel intensive industrial agriculture…and the low- or no-input local variety.

    It’s the worst piece of work I’ve ever run across. And you can find it here:

  4. Darlin seems to have forgotten the part about eating seasonally. If one wants to eat the same foods year round, eating locally will present a problem. If one is prepared to eat what is in season or preserved when it was in season, eating locally is not.

  5. I just have a small container garden now but grow enough peppers, tomatoes and herbs and freeze and can enough to last me through until the next season. I used to have a half acre garden and grew enough to last us year round and to give away to friends. My first Thanksgiving I had 12 side dishes (just showing off) and I had grown the vegetables myself! I also buy from a local farm. Just pureed enough pumpkin for 8 pies or recipes and made 8 quarts of green tomato pickles with the last of my tomatoes. My main reason for all the gardening was to have organic vegetables and I never gave a thought to anything else! (years ago!)

  6. It’s not just food “realists”, but many gardeners (of all age groups!) that think growing food is a summertime activity. I meet people every day that act surprised that I have stuff to do in the yard during the “off season” – and I live in balmy zone 7b! My grandfather was a wheat farmer who kept a small garden but even he thought gardening was something you sweated over in the summer and he also only thought you were supposed to grow potatoes, turnips and corn. All the other stuff wasn’t worth the trouble.

  7. Here in the heart of California, where freezing temps are a rarity, most people still think food-growing can only be done in the summer. This, despite the near constant activity in the fields & farmer’s markets all around us. When I bring in bundles of chard or spinach & buckets of peas and radishes, it’s the same exclamation – “I didn’t know you could grow this stuff in the winter !” Most think that citrus is the only local food available between October and April.

    Our school garden is in a much more prominent location now than before, a place where the majority of parents see it daily. They were mostly baffled when we were putting in plants & sowing seeds in September. Now they are amazed that not only are the tomatoes still going strong (thanks again, Loghouse Plants !), but the peas are producing and the kindergarteners come home with precious school-grown carrots & radishes nearly daily.

    Growing your own or buying local is just not on the radar of most people, unfortunately, even in a climate like this. But it is getting closer.

  8. Yesterday before it snowed I harvested bell peppers, lettuce and carrots. My chef turned up her nose at the parsnips after one try and has a definite lack of enthusiasm for the beets. Even after the snow I will still be able to harvest more lettuce and carrots. The beets and parsnips too, I’ll just have to cook them myself.

    Michele I rough measured. I have a bit less than 1200 square feet of vegetable garden. Your garden is bigger. Maybe next year with some row covers I will be willing to try some of the cole crops like broccoli again.

  9. Michele, to clarify I see nothing wrong with correcting an error in a paper or raising issues with analysis and to be fair the paper in question does raise most of your points itself in the “Uncertainties in Results” para. My issue is where members of the local food movement (or any movement) ignore the science rather than trying to correct or improve it. The reporting of and response to the FSA’s report on the health benefits of organics was a good example although in 5 minutes googling I’ve been unable to find the particularly poor responses which were partially responsible for my initial response.

  10. In this case, it sounds as if it’s the anti-locavores who are ignoring the science, or the facts–or at least some of them. I do agree with tai haku that sometimes we organic/locovor/do-it-ourself types can’t bear to entertain the idea that what we love may not be practical for everyone. On the other hand, I also believe that a lot of the evidence isn’t in because the studies haven’t been done. And that’s because and most of the big money’s been invested in monoculture crops produced with synthetic fertilizers, plenty of herbicides and pesticides, all for markets thousands of miles away.

  11. Growing vegatables on your own garden is the only way to get them fesh with no chemicals involved. In my opinion, just about anyone wth a little space in thier backyard can start growing thier own veg garden. I have mine in a small terrace( as i am staying in a apartment) in pots and cloth sacks.

  12. The whole locavore thing is complicated — I worry a little that we’re competing with local farms by growing our own vegetables. I started only a tiny little potager this summer — greens, beans, cukes, tomatoes, herbs — but it made me independent of the farmers’ market for a number of weeks.

    Also, one problem with our winters is that they preclude the type of school gardening/farm programs Alice Waters does in Berkeley, which help kids get interested in good food (& hopefully in gardening.)

  13. I have too much shade to grow veggies, but I just made a salad to take to a party, all from ingredients I bought this morning at the farmers market: Arugula, fennel, beets and walnuts. Pretty sure no one is going to complain about what a yawn my salad is.

  14. Food processing from my own garden is very low on my priority list. I could do it if I had to (those skills were learned in childhood on the farm), but at the moment I don’t choose to spend my time that way. I used to have my own veggie garden, but gave it up when the garden work had to be made realistic, afterall we are an aging couple. One of the joys of the modern world is that the majority of us don’t have to do the hard work of growing and preserving food.

    I had a bellyful of that kind of labor as a kid. My mother was very skillful at feeding six kids very frugally, and we all had to pitch in, but I’m glad I don’t have to live that way now. In China, the subsistance peasants vote with their feet to get off the farm. We Western elites seem to be romantizing the growing of food these days.

  15. Yum…Ok this is all good…I love the local quality to tickle my rumen…BUT…a country like Canada has an obligation to feed others in all parts of the world. Should little Achkmed go hungry or should Sask grow some lentils and feed the little fucker? There has to be a balance of local food and production ag to feed the planet. All very nice for those in N.America…Achkmed needs us keep producing thousands of calories per acre…

  16. Yvonne, at Country Garden brings the missing reality to this discussion. Not everyone can grow their own food; not everyone lives close enough to farmers’ markets. Many cannot afford to shop there.

    Division of labor is what makes highly industrialized societies so successful. One of the several prices that we pay for that success is the poor nutritional value of the food that we eat. The few that care enough to control the quality of their meals are to be commended and envied. Sadly, what they do cannot be generalized into the mainstream. It is an unrealistic expectation.

    The authors of “Freakanomics” many know very little about growing food or nutrition but they do know a lot about economics. The costs of food production and its distribution play serious roles in determining what we eat, how we eat, and what we pay for groceries.

  17. Its funny how some people seem to think all you need to do is plant a vegetable garden and a lot of our problems will go away.

    Gardening is a lot of work and takes time and energy. I love growing things and I wish I could throw myself into it 100% but unfortunately I have to put in my 40 hours a week, the kids have home work, and the endless household chores.

    I really envy those of you who have the time and space to garden and are able to can and freeze food you are a lucky group.

  18. These types of articles get my dander up also. They rely on the adage “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. We all know that, unless you choose not to be frugal, you can grow your own produce cheaper and healthier than buying it from the grocer. Winter farm markets are appearing here in Connecticut, so it won’t be long before their “truths” are exposed about year round gardening.

  19. I am falling in love with all this information. I am as new to gardening and self-sufficiency as it gets and I am falling deeper and deeper in love with in. I wont go into a the long details but a few life changes has let me to making my own food and I am very excited about starting.

    I have spent probably 8 hours a day this weekend doing all kinds of research on what foods I want to grow and what type of garden I want and it seems like every page I land on on the internet I found some more cool information. Like vegetables in winter? I never new!

    Thank you so much for the great information and you have just got a new subscriber. I can’t wait to do some research and find out what kind of stuff I need to be doing for an indoor/outdoor container garden for west-central north carolina at this time of the year!

  20. Amen, sister! Even with our snow last week I am pulling out everything you mentioned, too.

    And of course, Michele, I cannot wait for the day you decide a hoophouse, with a painted blue-purple door, complements your own country plot. Just think of how many converts you can make! Believe me, there’s nothing like the smell of fresh earth in a greenhouse when there’s two feet of snow outside. That gardening itch will always get scratched.

Comments are closed.