Friday, November 15, 2013

Eating Locally in the Winter Months

Madison Farmer's Market
Thanks to Community GroundWorks, a Nature Net member, for their contributions to this post!

Eating locally grown produce in the summer in Madison just seems natural. Our regional agricultural roots are reflected in the fact that we have the largest producer-only farmers' market in the country, the South Side Farmers' Market that is open five days a week in the summer, many other markets around the city (which you can find listed by both region and day), and plenty of restaurants that serve locally grown food. It's easy during the growing season, but what about when the days get shorter, the cold creeps in, and gardens and farms are less productive? Eating fresh produce is difficult, and local produce seems even more scarce. While it can take a bit of planning, eating locally in the winter is not only possible, but also healthy and delicious!

Some crops prefer cold weather and/or store quite well in a cold space. Vegetables such as beets, broccoli, leeks, carrots, fennel, sweet potatoes, and squash are all great winter foods. You can find them at the grocery store, but they can also be found locally even in the winter. The Dane County Farmers' Market is open year round! Usually about two weeks into November, it moves indoors and returns to the square in late April, but between then you can find it in the Monona Terrace (early winter, until December) and in the Madison Senior Center (late winter, January-April). Click here for a complete schedule of the Dane County Farmers' Market. The selection is definitely not as vast as it is during the summer, but the winter farmers' market does provide access to local produce when you can no longer grow it yourself.

The farmers' market is a wonderful resource, but growing your own food and storing it can be a great, money-saving alternative. This will have required some planning ahead, so if you did not happen to plant a garden this year, the good news is that now is a perfect time to start planning your garden for next year! If you're eager to begin, though, you can make your very own mini greenhouse out of a soda bottle and create an indoor hanging garden for herbs to tide you over until spring!
Planting at the
Aldo Leopold Nature Center

If you do not have space for a garden, organizations like Community GroundWorks have community gardens and CSA (community sponsored agriculture) programs. Both options are wonderful; you can garden if you have the knowledge and time, or become a CSA member if you have a busier schedule and would like to pick up fresh produce each week. Community GroundWorks is also home to the Goodman Youth Farm where kids can help plant, harvest, and eat all the goodies from the garden. The Youth Farm participated in the Madison Sweet Potato Project this year, which is a program that supplies local food pantries in the fall in exchange for cost-free plants in the spring. If you're looking for something sweet, the Ironworks Cafe (stocked with produce from the Goodman Farm) sells honey from the Goodman Youth Farm beehives, as well as locally produced cheese. Snug Haven Farm sells Madison-grown spinach year round, and the Crossroads Community Farm offers a winter CSA program.

Gardening Fun!
No matter how you procure your produce, you will need to find a way to store it for winter. This could involve curing, canning, or freezing. Winter squashes can be stored for up to six months if they have been cured and kept cool enough. Sweet potatoes are another winter vegetable that keeps well once cured, and they actually even taste better if they are allowed to sit for a while. For other produce, though, keeping it cool may not be enough. In those cases, freezing or canning your harvest are good options. Freezing vegetables maintains their nutrients and it does not require extensive training or equipment (other than a freezer, of course!). While frozen food is not as nutritious as that that has been plucked fresh from your garden, it is a good alternative when having a garden is not an option.

Butternut Squash

To freeze squash
, for example, you can do so after you have cooked it or even freeze it while it's still raw. Canning foods in the summer makes them last for years, so if that sounds more appealing, the USDA has a complete guide to learning to can. Still a little unsure about freezing or canning your food? Fitchburg Fields offers classes in both!

If you get produce from a market and want to eat it soon, you can still give it a longer shelf life by "heat shocking" it. This works surprisingly well with foods like kale or lettuce, which may not freeze well, anyway. All you do is dip the fruit or vegetable in a bowl of hot water. Some foods may require more or less time in the hot water. Here's a guide for heat shocking commonly used fruits and vegetables. This is also a technique that you can use year round on foods that may have otherwise gone bad in your fridge or on your counter.

Once you've preserved your food, there are all kinds of yummy recipes to try! If you have stored whole acorn squashes, this recipe for Stuffed Acorn Squash would make a delicious winter dinner. has a list of their ten most popular winter recipes, whose ingredients include kale, leeks, beans, and chard. The popular website All Recipes even lets you search for recipes by
ingredient. The internet is absolutely swarming with recipes these days, so finding one to use with your delicious local veggies is a piece of cake!

Now... If only I could find a way to make cake last...

Emma, Nature Net Intern

Monday, November 4, 2013

Fall Into Fall Colors

It seems as though it has taken longer than usual, but the colors of fall are in full swing here in Wisconsin. In this blog post, we'll explore everything from crafts and activities for fall fun, to just what it is that makes the trees so beautiful this time of year.

Fall has been my favorite season for as long as I can remember. I love the crisp autumn air, the migratory birds, and of course, all the changing trees. When I was younger, my brothers and I would rake up all the leaves in the yard and then use them to make "leaf houses." There was nothing three dimensional about these houses, but we made maze-like designs on the grass and designated a kitchen, living room, and our own rooms, and then we'd play in them for hours. The best part was raking the leaves up again and jumping in the huge pile. This is just one of many ideas for fun things you and your friends and family can do with leaves.

If you're the crafty type, find some especially colorful leaves and make a rose bouquet; the DIY video below shows how to do this by folding and wrapping maple leaves.
This is also a good way to learn which leaves are from maple trees. You can even experiment with other types of leaves and use a tree identification field guide (or an online guide) to learn which trees your favorite leaves come from.

A Wisconsin Trail in the Fall
The Wisconsin Trails website has fifteen fun suggestions for ways to see the changing colors. There are many hiking and biking trails around the state, and for the more adventurous, they suggest kayaking and even zip line tours!

If the fall colors seem to have ended in your area, never fear -- the Wisconsin Fall Color Report will show you the best places to enjoy the rest of the season. It even has a list of events, activities, dining, and lodging that are near your preferred destination in case a short autumn vacation sounds enticing. Hurry-- from Sauk County to the Milwaukee area, there are places throughout the southern half of Wisconsin that are peaking as we speak! Take photos and share them in this beautiful autumn gallery.

So these autumn leaves are beautiful -- that much we've established -- but what makes them so pretty? In the spring and summer, leaves are pigmented by chlorophyll, which creates the green color we see most of the time. As the weather gets colder, though, photosynthesis slows and the chlorophyll begins to fade. The fading of the stronger pigment, chlorophyll, allows other pigments to come through.

Trapped glucose, when exposed to sunlight and cool nights, turns red or purple. This pigment is called anthocyanin, which protects the leaves a bit longer as it gets colder. Other pigments in the leaves include tannin (brown), carotene and lycopene (orange and red), and xanthophyll (yellow), which create all the colors we're seeing right now. You can find out more about autumn leaves here.
Pressed Leaves

You may find some leaves that you want to keep forever, in which case you can press them. This will not quite preserve all the fresh vivid beauty, but the leaves will last longer so they can be used for crafts or become part of your nature records. Record their colors and characteristics by pasting pressed leaves into a nature journal, painting around them in true colors, sketching, tracing, painting, rubbing, printing, comparing with paint swatches, or making other notes. Try to recognize which pigments might be found in the leaves you like best and write these, as well as the tree species, next to your pressed leaf. You can use a heavy book, buy a leaf press or make your own, and then follow this instructional video to press them.

There are many similar videos on YouTube with ideas on what to do with your leaves once you press them. You can make bookmarks, pendants, candles, or paste them on homemade cards. Turn them into colorful critters or make a leaf mobile. Get creative and show off your pretty autumn finds!

Have Some Fall Fun!
Emma, Nature Net Intern