Produce At Its Peak: Local All Year Round

This post by Jill at Seward Co-op originally appeared on Seward Co-op’s blog. Supporting year-round food systems is a core concern for P6 co-ops. We recently had a conversation on our Marketing Committee call about this very issue. Thanks for your insights, Jill!

Local mushrooms: king oyster, lion’s mane and oyster

A few weeks ago, I attended the organic farming conference hosted annually in LaCrosse, Wisconsin by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services. In workshops, keynote addresses, and casual conversation there was much talk of the increasing instability of the region’s weather. There were countless references to all of the extreme conditions farmers have faced in recent years. The long, bitterly cold winter of 2013-2014, the late, wet spring that followed, and the early frost this past October resulted in a truncated and tempestuous growing season. Conference attendees also recalled a few years ago when we enjoyed an early thaw – what seemed the promise of an extended growing season – only to suffer an April frost which delayed planting and had disastrous effects on orchard fruits across the region.

These past few days we have been enjoying balmy temperatures for March in the middle North. While the extra sunlight and warmer weather have many of us feeling giddy, for our region’s farms we’ve had a worrying winter of low precipitation and there is little trust that this apparently early spring will translate into a longer or more reliable growing season.

Considering all that our local farmers are experiencing and adapting to, it is a wonder that we have such a bountiful supply of locally grown food even in our more temperate months. It is all the more wondrous that Seward Co-op is able to offer locally produced food year round. As our lead buyer noted recently, “Local season never really ends, it just changes.” Just as we worked through the last cases of Wisconsin Growers (Mondovi, Wis.) sweet potatoes, we began to receive deliveries of Living Water Gardens (Wells, Minn.) hydroponic basil and English cucumbers.

Along with hydroponically grown produce, we’ve begun to receive more regular deliveries of oyster and king oyster (with an occasional treat of lion’s mane) from the Northeast Minneapolis-based Mississippi Mushrooms. Local turnips, winter radishes, onions, beets, and potatoes also help bridge the growing years. Soon enough, Living Water Gardens will be regularly delivering vine-on tomatoes – and after a winter of imported tomatoes, this is a milestone that for us will signal the official start of the 2015 growing season.

Each winter, when our shelves reflect a lull in local produce, we are working with local farmers to plan for the next year’s planting. Each year, we work hard to develop new relationships with farms, grow sales with farms that we only support minimally, and maintain the relationships we have with our current core farms. In 2015 we will be working directly with 33 local farms. We hope that the opening of the Friendship store will enable us to work with even more farms in 2016.