Paper vs Plastic? How about Basket vs Canvas?

OK, we’ve had our first couple of frosts and a long Thanksgiving holiday. Work in the garden has slowed quite a bit. Perhaps we can take a moment for a bit of a debate around the fire? Or more simply put for the purposes of this blog: which route is the better one to take – Local or Organic? Of course, the ideal answer to that question is BOTH! But what about those times when you really do need to make a choice? Not many of us here in the Piedmont are growing our own wheat for bread, for example, and our seafood, though kinda local (regional really), mostly gets here from the coast. Thanksgiving at my house included lots of locally raised and organic selections, but not all were, by any means. So what’s a responsible omnivore to do? Not exactly The Omnivore’s Dilemma (thank you, Michael Pollan!) I know, but a question that seems to keep coming up in our food discussions.

Urban winter garden with beet sprouts and onion transplants

In this blog, of course, the “basket” refers to harvesting out of our own backyards, small farms or community gardens (yay, Dunleith!) and “canvas” seems to be the bag of choice at the local organic food store (well, maybe at the local farmers’ market, too, but you get the idea). Many of us who grew this year, took great advantage of all of the good fresh choices that came out of our gardens. Some of us even canned, froze or otherwise processed some of that goodness in preparation for the long winter ahead. But now that Fall is here, the fresh-out-of-the-garden selections are, in most cases, fewer and less diverse. What’s a person to do?

I think I’ve already laid down some suggestions above, preserving your own produce chief among them. For instance, our extra (and widely varied) tomatoes from the summer went for sauce that can provide a warm and hearty pasta meal this winter, along with our own garlic and onions, and maybe some of those peppers that we froze. Many of our muscadine grapes, along with some interesting herbal additions from the garden, were turned into delicious jellies that can grace our toast on a cold morning. An abundance of figs were processed into a sweet syrup for winter teas and hot beverages and the preserves are ideal for marinating locally and humanely raised meats. We have but to use our imaginations to come up with scores of ideas to lengthen the season and still have delicious meals with local and/or organic ingredients. It’s easier than you think it is to do, and there may be some trial and error involved, but the results can be both amazing and tasty.

Supplementing from our local organic food stores is also an option. Personally, I balk at buying grapes from Chile or blueberries from Argentina, but sometimes the 6 year old in your shopping cart wins that argument. But there are lots of other options that you know were raised responsibly if not exactly locally. And some of these can be processed for later winter consumption as well.

So, I guess what I’m really saying in the final analysis is: harvest, prepare and eat from your own gardens when possible; supplement from the local farmers’ markets and organic food stores, supporting their health and growth in the process; learn to process what’s locally and organically available for the leaner times through the winter season; and maybe even start thinking about greenhouse or coldframe production. Heck, Elliot Coleman in MAINE grows wonderful produce year ’round (see Four Season Harvest and Winter Harvest Handbook if you don’t believe me)! But, all in all, it’s a continuum, folks. We’re all headed toward that local and organic ideal one step at a time, each at our own pace. But the more we all do it, the more local and organic farming there is, at whatever level, the more possible it becomes to have access to everything we need for a healthier and more sustainable food lifestyle. To me, that’s quite a nice gift for the holidays.

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