Dear Umbra,

I live in New Hampshire, and I am getting ready for the long, cold winter. I try to eat locally, but with no year-round growing season here and such a dense population, most of the food comes from elsewhere. I was wondering what I could do to reduce my impact during the winter and how I can eat as locally as possible. Do you have any ideas?

Diana
Durham, N.H.

Dearest Diana,

Mmm, just in time for Thanksgiving.

The Mason-fixin’ line.

Photo: iStockphoto

Hearken back to days of yore, ere yon freezer trucks and container freight hauled yon Cal-Mex foods to thy door. What did New Hampshirites do 60 years ago or more, other than live free or die? Stored winter vegetables and grains in a cold cellar, and ate as much meat as they could, I presume.

There’s nothing stopping you from doing the same, if there’s time for you to procure storage vegetables and other produce such as winter squash, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, apples, beets, and turnips. Either you’ll need to befriend a farm (or farms) with a steadyish supply of these items, or buy a batch to stick in a sawdust-filled barrel in a cold, dark part of your home, aka root cellar.

If you eat meat, find a local producer who can supply you regularly in the winter or find room in your freezer to throw in a partial pig or cow or what have you. I excuse you from trying to find and grind your own winter oats and barley, but local eggs may be available until the hens go on winter holiday. You also could — for future reference — put food by in the summer months (with the guidance of the excellent Putting Food By). Canning, freezing, pickling, and drying are all proven, tasty techniques for capturing a little bit of summer. Too late this year, of course, but think about it for next year.

Mayhap you know where to look for local farms to start this project, through your area farmers’ market or community-supported agriculture program. If not, the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Hampshire chapter could help point you toward a willing producer.

Do those ideas sound insane? Easier than hunting down and gathering up your own agricultural producers will be using your local natural-foods store or co-op grocery. If any grocery is sourcing local producers, it will be they. Ask at the produce counter.

Eating locally in New Hampshire, though — let’s think about the specifics of that quest. For one, you’ll need to adjust your diet (I may be presumptuous in thinking of turnips as outside your normal purview). For two, what is local to you? Is it Strafford County? Is it New England? In the winter you may need to broaden your concept of local to include not only your food’s producers, but your food’s purveyors. If none of the producer-related steps above work or entice, switch your winter focus from producers to locally owned grocers. In an era of megastores and giant corporate foods, all businesses in the local-foods chain need your allegiance.

Lastly, my food storage suggestions seem odd to a modern household, but certainly the idea of stocking up the pantry and taking fewer car trips will not — driving less is another fine way to reduce your winter impact.

Rutabagaly,
Umbra