by Michael Armstrong
Farmer Ben Sosnicki grows a plethora of produce: root vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, corn, garlic, green beans, leeks, bok choy, and the list goes on. However it’s November, so today he comes through Karma’s doors wielding five crates of cabbage. This is Ontario, people, and winter is at our doorstep. So suck it up, locavores, and eat your rutabagas! Or do you have to?
Produce grown in Ontario is a tricky business. We all know the growing season can be a challenge here in the spring and summer months.
Then the first heavy frost puts an end to most field crops. Not so gradually, Karma’s produce selection turns from 95 per cent locally grown to perhaps 40 per cent by the dead of winter. The good news is that local produce available to us at Karma is actually quite diverse, given that it could be minus 20 degrees outside.
Storage crops come to us almost year-round from a variety of farmers and suppliers. Ben brings the cabbage, while Bob Felhazi keeps potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and squash in storage.
and delivers when called. The folks at Pfennings Farm are well known as successful growers and distributers of certified organic produce. They provide us with most of the imported produce we sell, as well as a huge variety of produce grown on their farm. In the winter months they provide us with local radish, onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, and other root vegetables. Apples keep coming in until the next summer with the help of controlled atmosphere storage. The Filsinger Farm and Apple Top Orchard are our main suppliers of sweet local organic apples. Speaking of sweet, Bob and Juli Proracki bring us sweet potatoes and squash every other week, before they head to the Wychwood Barns Farmers Market. They grow four different varieties of sweet potatoes, such as the purple-fleshed and Oh Henry (a white-fleshed variety).
Greenhouse crops help to fill the spectrum of local produce available in the winter. Longtime friend of Karma Nat Macri works at the Ontario Food Terminal, and he picks and delivers the conventionally grown greenhouse items we carry. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and cucumbers arrive weekly throughout the winter months except for a period of about four weeks near February when production stops due to a lack of sunlight. Organic greenhouse growers Sledgers are located near Strathroy, Ontario, and provide us with various greens like Boston lettuce, arugula, basil, and watercress. Their products are harvested with their root ball attached, which helps the plant to maintain freshness. Also grown in greenhouses are sprouts, which come to us from Sprouts For Life. Kathryn and John Gorzo are long-time friends of Karma who started growing and selling sprouts to help supplement their small farm year-round. Farmer Bob Felhazi has three greenhouses which, depending on the conditions of the particular season, can grow hearty greens like mustard well into December.
There are always other items that literally pop out of the ground during the winter. Kale and leeks sometimes find their way through the snow and we get a little taste of what’s to come in the spring. On the Filsinger Farm they leave carrots in the ground, covered and unharvested, until February when they dig them out. Leaving them in the soil maintains freshness while adding sweetness to the root. And don’t forget about mushrooms. They grow year-round here in Ontario. Watch for more organic varieties like Elm Oyster and Maitake from Weth Farms.
As the number of locally grown items available, displayed on the chalkboard in the produce section, turns from 98 in the summer to 50-something in the winter, keep in mind that there are still lots to bring home while supporting local farms. Happy eating local foods!