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I often hear people say you can’t eat locally during our long, cold winters. I disagree. With effort and creativity, it can be done.

You may assume it’s too hard to track down local food, but farmers’ markets are often open througout winter in larger communities, and serve up more variety than you might expect.

Here we are in deep winter and I saw a farmer posting Instagram photos of leeks taken from storage. Greenhouses are becoming more common and I know of local tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and lettuce that are available in my neck of the woods in Ontario. Of course, there are the usual suspects - carrots, beets, onions and potatoes. And please, let us not forget the freshness and flavor that herbs can bring to those root veggies or any other dish!

You could take matters into your own hands, preserving some of your summer harvest, building cold frames to protect your heartier vegetables such as kale from the elements or even growing your own sprouts if you are looking for nutritious fresh greens for your diet.

Preserve, protect, and grow sprouts

Preserving needs only be as complicated as you want it to be. So many people think it’s difficult, but it really is not. Home canning classes are available and there are lots of small businesses to do it for you. This is an especially exciting area for jam lovers out there.

Constructing a cold frame might take a bit of technical know how but most of us have at a friend who can assist with such an easy woodworking project. Scrap wood from other projects can be used. That way you can extend your season and enjoy some greens almost all year round.

Growing sprouts is easy, nutritious and quite cheap too. It takes a jar, a fine strainer or a piece of food-grade fine mesh, fresh water and some patience for a few days. It’s a great way to introduce kids to producing their own food. Your local health food store likely has seeds; if not, purchase them online.

If you keep an eye on food labels, you can often buy products grown and produced in Canada, if not in your province. My neighbourhood grocery store has canned tomatoes, frozen peas, corn and cherries, cranberries and dried beans all from Ontario.

heirloom carrots, Sam Robertson, Westboro Farmers Market, organic, locally-grown, Ontario agriculture
It's possible to eat locally through all four seasons, says Ottawa Chef Sam Robertson. All it takes is a little extra effort. Photo courtesy of Samuel Robertson

Beets and red onions impart freshness

In addition to fruit and veggies, you may want eggs, cheese, local meat, grains and products made with these ingredients when the days are shorter and colder.

Personally, during the winter I look forward to hardier, heavier meals. They help keep me warm and energized for outdoor activities when it’s frosty outside. This doesn’t mean that I settle for only soup and stew. I get creative.

Grain and pasta salads with lots of herbs and grated root vegetables can be wonderful. One of my current favorite recipes is a Belarussian carrot salad with a lot of flavor, texture and undeniable freshness. Don’t underestimate the value of shredded beets or thinly sliced red onion for imparting freshness.

Searching for recipes online, in magazines and cookbooks is a great way to expand your repertoire and discover diverse ways of preparing local food.

And remember, spring is just around the corner!