By: Mac Stone, Farmer & Owner, Elmwood Stock Farm
We have had to use the phrase “walk like you mean it” more than a few times at Elmwood Stock Farm over the years when one of us—usually the new guy—is not showing enough hustle attending to some urgent situation. We also adopted an “eat like you mean it” policy along the way, which has motivated us to grow so many types of food.
We want the nourishment of our bodies to come from wholesome, whole foods. This doesn’t end when the main growing season ends. In fact, as I write this in mid-November 2020, there are no fewer than 35 different types of local—as in, grown here on our farm—fresh, organic vegetables available at the moment; nevermind the meats, eggs and pantry items. Eating local year-round used to be unheard of, and today, it’s easy as—and can literally be—pumpkin pie.
For us as farmers to eat like we mean it year-round, we decided to grow it. As of a few years ago, we have been growing cold-hardy vegetables in high tunnels (like large greenhouses heated only by the sun). The plants are growing in the ground, inside the double-walled, clear poly film-covered structure, which provides enough protection to grow and harvest leafy greens all winter long.
Before we started using high tunnels—and even now that we do use them—we used row cover to let cold-hardy crops eek by a few more weeks into fall. We lay lightweight, white woven frost blankets over the rows and secure them with weights along the edges to keep the wind from lifting them. The row covers allow solar energy to pass through them, warming the soil during the day and restricting radiational cooling at night, holding in the ground heat for the plants’ benefit. Sometimes we elevate the fabric over the crop with wire hoops to prevent damage on contact points, but sometimes we simply let the crop itself suspend the fabric above the ground. This row cover gives them a 3 to 5-degree buffer as colder weather sets in.
This crop-production story is leaving out the storage crops, which are worth a whole blog entry in themselves. Mother Nature really knows her stuff and designed many of the vegetables that we harvest in fall to hold up well through the winter. I’m talking about potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, fall radishes, and fall squash of all shapes and colors.
These are the vegetables comfort foods are made of. Elmwood Stock Farm is not the only farm in our region to employ season-extending growing techniques and to grow storage crops, and Good Foods Co-op’s produce department is proof of that. We appreciate that they take the time to label the origin of the produce when it’s local.
Don’t be swayed by what produce may be on display in the big-box supermarket. Organic Kentucky sweet corn is amazing, but we can all only have it in July and August. That’s it, finito, finished, no more, no matter how much we want it other times of the year. Move on and revel in these seasonal and storage crops. Our bodies are attuned to them anyway.
If steamed kale with maybe a little vinegar is not your thing, then try kale chips. If you always get kale, but the collards look fresher, try them one week with a different recipe. Maybe you did not like Swiss chard the one time you tried it at the in-laws’ dinner party. Try it again, fixed another way, and you may just add another easy vegetable to your repertoire. Prepare your palate for all the possibilities that the “off-season” produce world has to offer.
Eating local year-round isn’t limited to fresh produce, either. Kentucky Proud canned tomatoes and salsas, granola, honey, baked goods, eggs, frozen produce from FoodChain, ice cream and more are all available on the Co-op’s shelves.
Add a trip to the meat section to be reminded that local meat—while seasonal when raised on pasture, as our animals are—is generally available year-round in your, your farmer’s or Good Foods’ freezer.
I’m grateful that the local-eating season no longer ends with the first frost in October and that all of us can instead access good food all year. With your support, even more local farmers will be able to provide you with these foods, so even more of us can eat like we mean it.
—Mac Stone, Elmwood Stock Farm