Aspen Untucked: The end of growing season | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Untucked: The end of growing season

by Barbara Platts

We've reached the point in the year where our supply of fresh, local vegetables is dwindling down. The farmers markets throughout the valley have all wrapped up for the season, the delightful peach and corn stands on the side of road have disappeared, and don't even get me started on the wilting flowers. It's obvious, as the snowstorms become more frequent and the days get shorter, that plants of all shapes and sizes are bidding us adieu.

The realization that it's the end of growing season hit me hard last week when my CSA wrapped up. For those who don't know (and you should), CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Essentially, a customer buys a share of a farm's product during growing season. Typically, this comes in the form of vegetables and fruit, however many farmers also sell raw milk, poultry, pork, honey and other types of food that can be grown on their farms. A CSA is a great way to eat healthy while also supporting your local farmers. Signing up for one also shows that you support the local food economy. Plus, they are generally reasonably priced and are available to you weekly.

Anyway, at the beginning of this summer, I signed up for an 18-week CSA. As I said above, the program wrapped up last week. I've now finished all of the carrots, my potato supply is next to nothing, and my garlic and onion selection has narrowed down to a couple cloves and one last white bulb. Oh, and I have a couple of red beets, which I'm trying my damnedest to like, but it's that one vegetable I've just never been able to guzzle down. All of the kale is gone, the eggplants haven't been around for weeks, and I haven't bitten into a deliciously sweet tomato since September.

At this point, I'm not sure what to do with myself. I've returned to the fruit and vegetable section of the grocery store to find avocados from Mexico and bananas from somewhere in Central America. I'm quite certain that the sweet potatoes and the corn there aren't right, because both are too obese to portray any sign of normalcy. At a farmers market or in my CSA, I never question the health of an item I'm getting, but at the grocery store I'm scrupulous, paying attention to each fruit and vegetable as if I'm the judge at a beauty pageant.

To try to procure some understanding of the valley's growing season, and in an attempt to comfort myself, I reached out to friends Erin Cuseo and Jimmy Dula. They operate Erin's Acres, a farm in Basalt at the Lazy Glen Open Space, which offers a CSA in the summer and fall and also has a stand at the Basalt Sunday Market. They finished their fall CSA this week and are working to wrap things up for the growing season. The last of the crops they have are mustard greens, tatsoi, arugula, salad turnips, fennel and winter squash.

Erin said many of their remaining vegetables are being donated to fundraisers in the coming weeks. After that, it's really about putting everything to bed for the winter and starting prep for next year. She said it's a bummer to see the growing season come to a close.

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"I'm sad to see it end because this year we formed a lot stronger of relationships with customers," she said. "I think it's cool to see the customers' dedication to supporting local and fresh food."

Still, Mother Nature will not be denied. Winter is coming, and we all know it. When I asked Jimmy what all of us locavores can do to try and eat local, even during the colder months, he said it's all about holding onto your leftovers.

"It's pretty hard to eat local in the valley in the winter," he said. "Save now."

Jimmy said that winter squashes can last until mid-March if you keep them in a cool place. He also suggested making a big patch of pesto now, with fresh ingredients, and freezing it for later use. Pickling and canning are always great options, as well.

"If the question is: To can or not to can? Always can," he said. "Now is the time to preserve."

Erin agrees that eating local in the winter isn't easy. She hopes it will become more feasible over time.

"I'm still trying to figure it out myself, really," she said. "Here, where we are, there aren't many people growing year round. It is possible, and it's a goal."

But for now, Erin suggests seeking out local farmers who do canned goods. There are some in the Roaring Fork Valley and in the North Fork Valley. She also recommends contacting your farmer (and yes, everyone should have a farmer) to ask to purchase their number twos, those vegetables that may have not been sold because they looked funny or weren't as pretty as the other ones.

"These are cheaper, and the farmers don't want them going to waste," she said. "There's still a lot of food on all of these farms."

Erin and Jimmy, and all of the other wonderful farmers in the valley, will start getting out in the fields again in late March/early April, preparing for another growing season. Until then, we will have to rely on the local food that we can save and brave the supermarket produce shelves.

Best of luck out there.

Barbara Platts is excited for winter, but she's going to miss those summer veggie days. Reach her at bplatts.000@gmail.com or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.

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