We’re repeatedly pummeled with the same overwrought message: Eat lighter. Eat simpler. Eat fresher, it says. We respond to this call by filling our grocery baskets with crisp salad greens, ruby red strawberries, and plump little blueberries, giving nary a thought to the incredible distance our food most surely has traversed. So is this eating plan as pristine as it seems? We don’t think so. Here’s why:
Consider your greens. One bag of pre-washed, easy-as-pie salad greens can travel over 2,000 miles to arrive at your plate. That’s a lot of energy spent for a couple of tasty leaves. What’s more, some fruits and veggies are picked so far in advance, that by the time you’ve bought and brought them home, their nutritional value has gone kaput. So what are we to do when the urge to eat fresh strikes in the dead of winter? We posed that question to an expert.
Alison Parker, the lady farmer behind Radical Root Farm in Grayslake, IL, doesn’t go for greens during the wintertime. Instead, she pulls from her stock of canned, fermented, or frozen produce—all items she and her husband Alex have grown on their farm and squirrelled away during the warmer months. But if you’re like us—more grasshopper than dutiful ant—you’re probably wondering what’s left to eat. Plenty, says Alison.
WHAT TO BUY RIGHT NOW
The next few months call for hearty vegetables, think winter squash, root vegetables, and storage crops. Squash varieties like butternut, acorn, turban, and spaghetti are plentiful and can keep for months on your countertop. The downside, of course, is that they weigh a ton, making your shopping trip by bus double as a weight-lifting session. To lighten your load, literally, bring home potatoes, beets, carrots, and turnips, too. “Cutting off the tops on your beets and carrots and then storing them in a plastic bag in your fridge helps them last for months,” says Alison. To find veggies that are ripe for the picking, give them all a good squeeze. You’re looking for sturdiness, says Alison. Anything that gives, we say should be put back.
WHERE TO SHOP
The grocery chains dotting the city limits seem oblivious to the changing of the seasons. Their inventory is steady no matter the time of year. To ensure your produce isn’t a pack of weary travelers by the time you bring it home, make sure you shop close to your kitchen. Small-scale groceries like Green Grocer and The Dill Pickle fill their shelves with items from Midwestern farms. Or you can go directly to the farmer and join a CSA. CSAs, shorthand for community supported agriculture, allow you to invest your money—and your tastebuds—in a local, small-scale farm. You pay upfront and then receive regular deliveries of the farm’s seasonal bumper crops.
HOW TO EAT IT
Now that you’ve stocked your pantry with locally grown, seasonal fare, how on earth do you prepare it? We’ve been known to let potatoes grow tentacles, butternut squash go forgotten, and turnips turn to mush. But to this, we say no more. Here’s to a year of eating fresh, supporting our communities, and nourishing ourselves. Let’s start our turnaround with a roasting pan.
Believing any vegetable worth its weight can be roasted, we set out to peel, chop, and salt our way through this season’s harvest. Our favorite? Butternut squash. Here’s how to achieve an in-season treat that's tasty and easy to boot.
Roasted Butternut Squash
Good for snacking, or as a substitute for oven fries
1 butternut squash
1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Scrub your squash and peel off the skin. Using a sturdy chef’s knife, and tucking in your fingers, separate the round bulb from the rest of the vegetable. Grab a spoon and scoop out the seeds and anything that’s stringy and damp.
3. Chop the squash any way you like. We prefer even quarter-inch chunks, or quarter-inch thick rounds.
4. In a large bowl, toss your chopped squash with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a few dashes of salt.
5. Spread a thin layer of squash over an oiled cookie sheet, making sure each chunk has room to cook.
6. Cook for 45 minutes, turning once halfway through. Squash should be crispy and browned on the outside, while soft and sweet once you bite through.
is a small-scale, certified organic vegetable farm in Grayslake, Illinois. Owned and operated by Alison Parker and her husband Alex Needham, Radical Root believes that in order to take care of ourselves, we must also take care of the earth. Their farming practices are sustainable and focus on being good stewards of the earth. To learn more about the farm, or to sign up for a CSA share, visit Radical Root online.