We all love the magic of eating local food during the summer: Fresh tomatoes, greens and peaches are grown right in our Colorado backyard.
But what happens in winter? Are we relegated to the cramped, fluorescent-lit aisles of the grocery store?
Thankfully, no, we are not. “Local” does not belong to a particular season.
There are plenty of hard-working, resourceful farmers along Colorado’s Front Range who make it possible to eat locally year-round.
They primarily use three main methods to extend the growing season: harvesting crops in the field throughout winter, storing fall-harvested veggies properly to last through the winter, and growing indoors.
In the field
Bless their cold-hearty souls. Believe it or not, there are farmers who brave the elements and challenges of cold temperatures to grow crops in the field throughout winter.
At Croft Family Farm, Michelle and Steve grow spinach in a high tunnel all winter long. They use row cover on particularly cold nights and keep our salad bowls, smoothies and stir-fries full of greens every month of the year.
Now to answer the question that must be on your mind: Why would anyone want to farm in the winter? Krisan Christensen, who co-farms Wild Wellspring Farm and only harvests in the winter, cites her selfish desire to eat good local food all year — not just potatoes. She explains that as long as you layer appropriately — both your plants with row cover and your hands with insulated gloves — the cold is manageable.
Krisan also says, “Kale is fine, but when you try wintered kale, oh my gosh. Amazing.” In order to survive that cold, plants convert starch to sugar to protect the cell membrane from freezing. Plants’ defense mechanisms become our tasty treats.
Storage: best kind of hoarding
Hardy root vegetables like radishes, garlic, onions and winter squashes can serve as “storage crops,” meaning they’re resilient enough to be stored without losing any precious flavor.
One mastermind of stockpiling veggies is Derrick Hoffman, of Hoffman farms. He knows potatoes must be stored at 47 degrees Fahrenheit. Onions’ worst enemy is moisture, and carrots need to be sealed tightly.
Warm, cozy greenhouses
Rocky Mountain Fresh uses greenhouses to grow warm-season vegetables through a much longer harvest period. Owner Jeremy Marsh explains that the greenhouse enables him to control the environmental conditions to maximize plants’ potential.
This control improves consistency and quality as well as increasing productivity. Thanks to this indoor farming option, Rocky Mountain Fresh puts tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other classic summer vegetables on our tables from April to December.
Our farmers are innovating and braving the elements to bring us fresh food every month of the year. Join a winter CSA, visit a farm stand or buy fresh produce every week from BCFM online (order at BCFM.org). And in the meantime, make this hearty Winter Squash Bisque to celebrate the sweetness of the winter harvest.
Winter Squash Bisque
- 1 medium red, yellow or white onion, chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch of cloves
- Pinch of allspice (or nutmeg)
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 6-8 cups of any winter squash (recommend: Blue Ballet Hubbard, butternut or kabocha), chopped in half-inch cubes
- 1 large or 2 small apples
- 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons milk, cream or nondairy milk
- Directions: Sauté the onions, celery and carrots in butter until fragrant and the onions are translucent.
- Add the cloves, allspice and smoked paprika and sauté until fragrant.
- Add in winter squash and sauté for a few minutes.
- Pour in stock and 1 cup of water. Let soup come to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover for 15-20 minutes until squash is tender.
- Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender, adding milk or cream as you blend. You can skip the cream, but we wouldn’t.
- Dunk fresh bread to soak up the spiced goodness as you savor the soup. This soup freezes well.