WV farmers provide fresh, local products year-round

By Candace Nelson - 10:00 AM

Here's another column I wrote for the WV Gazette-Mail recently:

Even during the coldest winter months, West Virginia farmers are still growing fresh produce to support the community.

The Winter Blues Farmers Market, organized by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, took place Feb. 12 at the Charleston Civic Center as part of the 2017 Small Farm Conference. A sister event, the Winter Blues North Farmers Market, was held Feb. 9 in Morgantown. For the earlier event, more than 25 vendors gathered at the Ruby Community Center at Mylan Park to sell fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, eggs, breads, jellies, nuts, honey, woolen products and much more to the Morgantown community.

Many folks don’t realize they can get fresh, local food even throughout the winter. But, yes. Yes you can.

Farmers employ a variety of methods to make sure they’re putting food on your family’s table year-round — methods like using high tunnels, low tunnels, greenhouses and storage crops, according to Lisa Jones, program coordinator for the West Virginia University Extension Service Small Farm Center.

DeBerry Farm Fresh Produce, for example, sold potatoes, beets, garlic, winter squash and some pepper jelly at Winter Blues North. Storage crops, like potatoes, squash and apples, keep for long periods of time, as long as they are at optimal storage temperatures — around 55 degrees or so.

Those bright, leafy greens? Sickler Farms, which sold lettuce, kale, bok choy, collards, spinach, rainbow chard, mustard greens and arugula at the market, uses greenhouses and high tunnels — which protect crops from the snow and cold temperatures and extend the gardening season. Greenhouses work in a similar way but with the addition of environmental-control equipment.

“This was a great opportunity to highlight the amazing variety of products available in the winter months,” said Bryan Cheslock, president of the Morgantown Farmers’ Market Growers Association.

“Our farmers are a major economic driver, and this event not only boosts local business but supports our community with fresh, delicious goods.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I sit on the Morgantown Farmers Market Growers Association board, which hosted the event along with the WVU Extension Service Small Farm Center, because I care about its mission to provide the Morgantown area with fresh, local products.

The farmers are busy January through December so communities can eat healthily and channel money back into the local economy during the time when there is less activity.

So, if you think it’s difficult to support local farmers and food during the off-season, think again. Charleston’s Winter Blues Farmers Market and Morgantown’s Winter Blues North Farmers Market are just two of many markets that offer the opportunity to do so. The Bridgeport Farmers Market held a Valentine Market on Feb. 12 that featured local farmers, bakers and artisans who brought seasonal produce, farm-raised meats, fresh eggs, baked goods and other products.

Take some time to seek out opportunities to build those relationships with your local farmers, learning how your food is produced and maintaining those relationships — even throughout the chilly months of the year.

Eating fresh, local food is one way to fend off the winter blues.

For more information on how to find locally sourced food, reach out to your WVU Extension agent in your community or local farmers market.

Candace Nelson is a marketing and public relations professional living in Morgantown. In her free time, Nelson blogs about West Virginia food culture at CandaceLately.com.

Follow @Candace07 on Twitter or email Candace127@gmail.com.

Cheryl DeBerry’s Roasted Potatoes
DeBerry Farm Fresh Produce, a family-owned farm just over the state border in Maryland, provides produce to the Morgantown Farmers Market throughout the year. Cheryl DeBerry, and her husband, Charles, grow more than 50 types of vegetables, melons, herbs, gourds and berries. In winter, potatoes are in season.

This quick, simple recipe allows the fresh flavors of local potatoes to shine.

“Our go-to recipe right now during the winter months is roasted potatoes using our red potatoes and garlic; it is a great side dish that our whole family loves,” DeBerry said.

red potatoes
garlic cloves

Fry local bacon, reserving the grease for the recipe and using the bacon elsewhere. The DeBerry’s use Working H Meats’ bacon, which is a butcher and meat market in Friendsville, Maryland. If bacon grease isn’t your thing, you can use olive oil, vegetable oil or melted butter.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Wash, dry and chop local potatoes into 1/2-inch squares, cutting enough to fill up a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Mince a couple cloves of garlic (to taste).
Mix potatoes, garlic and enough bacon grease to coat.
Spread potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt if desired.
Bake for about 15 minutes, then turn the potatoes with a spatula and bake another 10 to 15 minutes under tender and browned.

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