By LAURIE DAVIS
---- — It’s the time of the year when our local growers are gearing up for warmer days.
Some are already producing crops in their hoop houses, harvesting early, cold-hardy greens. Others are selling root crops, meat, eggs, dairy and value-added items such as jams, jellies and dried herbs.
On our farm, we’re still enjoying a wealth of stored summertime goodness: canned tomatoes, pickles and dilly beans as well as frozen broccoli, spinach, asparagus, green beans and peppers. Little packets of frozen pesto are tucked in one corner. Plenty of roasting chickens fill a second freezer — they will last until next October when the next batch matures. Our root cellar is still piled high with potatoes (both sweet and regular), onions and squash. Our spare refrigerator holds crisp beets, carrots, rutabagas, cabbages and leeks as well as an abundance of eggs; our hens are now laying enthusiastically in response to the lengthening days.
We feel so lucky to be able to enjoy all this local food year-round — there’s something very satisfying in preparing a meal, in the middle of the winter, in which nearly everything came from our garden or another farm in the near vicinity. I want to encourage you to use as much locally produced food as possible this year. You can do it; there are more farmers markets than ever, and community-supported agriculture is expanding.
Plan to attend “Food from the Farm” from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Plattsburgh City Gym. You can sign up for a community-supported agriculture program, sample plenty of local food, and get excited about the approaching growing season.
Eating local is good for your health and strengthens our regional economy.
Another reason to celebrate this time of year is the impending arrival of a real local-food treasure: maple syrup. New York is the world’s third-largest producer of maple syrup, and the industry is expanding. It’s a tremendous natural resource for the North Country and a delicious local sweetener.
Michael Farrell, the director of the Cornell University Uihlein Maple Forest and Extension Center at Lake Placid, has said we have the potential to nearly double our production. Most of our current producers have tapped all the trees they own and need to expand into other properties. Landowners may gain agricultural tax relief if they lease their trees to a maple producer — or perhaps get into the business themselves. Find more information online at www.nnyagdev.org/_maple.htm.
And did you know that maple syrup has nutritious qualities? Some producers are known to drink the watery sap from the tree and tout the health benefits. Trees take up plenty of minerals, including calcium, and these are present in the sap along with antioxidants. While the more concentrated syrup is at least 66 percent sugar, the other nutrients are still there. And because growing and processing conditions vary from place to place, syrups may have slightly different flavors — fruity, woody or caramel. Maple syrup can also be substituted into recipes that call for sugar. Experiment with recipes by reducing a couple of tablespoons of other liquid while adding maple syrup in place of sugar.
Maple Weekends are coming up, and it’s a wonderful chance to visit your local producers. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the weekends of March 16, 17, 23 and 24, you can find at least 15 sites producing maple syrup in Essex, Clinton and Franklin counties. Try everything: maple cream, candy, brittle, jam, creemees, syrup, funnel cakes, cotton candy and sugar on snow. To find all the locations, visit www.mapleweekend.com and search by county, or check out the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/mapleweekend.
Visit www.adirondackharvest.com and use the search engine to find more local foods.
Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: email@example.com.