What’s on your table? Give thanks for local produce

Getting to visit Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm earlier this fall gave me a fresh understanding of what’s possible when a farmer works to extend the season for local consumption. Given that there were five of our own local farmers on the trip, I am hopeful that some of that success will rub off here.

Coleman’s organic farm harvests produce — in Maine — from September through April primarily, using season extension methods that turn out to be reasonably low-tech.

Nevermind that Coleman has 50 years of experience doing this. Let’s just assume that we can benefit from his various failures, trial and error and experiments. Indeed we can. The man has such a keen mind for innovation, for instance, that he has had engineers-on-loan at his disposal to help fabricate tools that he dreams up. He works from a perspective of “plant-positive,” in his words, rather than “pest-negative.”

What works in coastal Maine may not be what works in southern Indiana, but it’s a successful model worth studying. His books such as “Four Season Harvest” and “The Winter Harvest Handbook” tell much of the story.

Our own producers this year have learned more about how to use season-extending structures, such as high tunnels, or added hydroponic capacity for crops such as salad greens. While year-round local produce is yet to be seen here, some producers are stretching the season and getting awfully close.

So what’s available locally for Thanksgiving tables in the Columbus area? Pat yourself on the back if you grew any of the produce (fresh or preserved) that you will enjoy at Thanksgiving. Many of our fall crops, such as apples and squashes, are good keepers. In case you need it, I’ll remind you earlier in the fall next year to stock up on those keepers so you’ll have them for Thanksgiving and onward through the winter. They are plentiful and inexpensive from stores and farm stands.

On local items that are still available for purchase, Duck Creek Gardens reports eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes and — yes — strawberries, all grown right there along State Road 9. August Rising Acres has turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, endive, mixed lettuces and herbs. Daily’s Farm Market has squashes, apples, eggs and pies baked to order by Monday’s deadline.

It may be a bit late to find a pastured turkey for sale, but Nightfall Farm in Crothersville had a few left when last I checked. If having a locally-pastured turkey is important to you, make sure to order ahead in the future. Nightfall Farm has a selection of meat CSA plans, one of which includes that Thanksgiving turkey. Nightfall additionally has membership events through the year, when members and their families can visit that flock or help out on the farm.

Into winter

It looks like we’ll be able to count on another Winter Market, beginning next month, at the Columbus City Market/FairOaks Mall location, offering greens, eggs, meat, baked goods and other local items.

Second local food summit

We hope that those interested in developing our local food system will hold Feb. 22 for a second local food summit in our community. Producers, buyers and interested consumers are invited to consider the next steps of our local food system.

Presentations will include a farmers panel and presentations on what we have learned on this year’s study trips to Vermont and Maine, where the local food systems are older and more developed. The afternoon sessions will give participants a chance to meet others across various “topics tables.” If you have a topic to suggest, let me know. Save the date and watch for more information from Purdue Extension Bartholomew County in the new year.

Keeping it local

In developing our local food system, we can keep more food dollars circulating in our local economy, promote community resiliency and help to conserve our agricultural lands. While some consider local food to be a fad, I would suggest that it’s essential. The skills around preparing food with what’s seasonally available, or being able to raise it, continue to sustain us — bringing enjoyment as well.Thanksgiving is a celebration of the harvest and a pause for gratitude. I am wishing you the best of all of those things.

Kris Medic is Bartholomew County’s Purdue Extension educator for agriculture, natural resources and community development. She also is a board-certified master arborist. She can be reached at kmedic@purdue.edu and 812-379-1665.