Most stories begin with a nagging question. But as we started working on this month's "Eat Local" feature, the roots of doubt were even deeper than normal: Are we crazy to suggest eating local vegetables, meat, cheese and bread in the middle of winter? The ground is frozen, farmers markets are hibernating, and February here already kind of sucks. It's not possible.
Not true, we were told. "There's a natural rhythm to the way that we should eat," says Farmer Lee Jones, the overalls- and bowtie-clad owner of The Chef's Garden in Huron.
A national advocate for sustainable farming and local food, Jones works with chefs nationwide to supply micro greens, edible flowers and heirloom vegetables from his family farm in Erie County. His February list of offerings is a testament to what's possible locally: red beet, 31 kinds of lettuce, nine types of potatoes and so much more.
And chefs aren't the only benefactors. Breezy Hill Farm, in Canton (where we got the vegetables for this issue), has three hoop houses that produce vegetables — including Japanese turnips, lettuce and carrots — sold at the Countryside Farmers' Market all winter or through its modified community-assisted agriculture program.
"We're in a microclimate along Lake Erie that's unlike any other in the world," Jones says. At one time, the area — with its lake breezes and former lake-bottom soil — was home to the largest concentration of vegetable growers in the world. "Some of the best vegetables in the world are grown in this climate. They grow slower because you get cold nights and warm days."
But freeways, refrigeration, convenience and corporate agriculture altered our relationship with the farm and our food. Now the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. Driven by people like Jones, and Donita Anderson of the North Union Farmers Market, and our abundance of amazing chefs, more Northeast Ohioans are learning what our parents and grandparents knew well: There is a tastier way to eat.
"It's about working in harmony with nature," Jones says, "rather than trying to outsmart it."