Spring has (almost) sprung

We're excited to introduce a new Xpress column — Eatin' in Season. Every other week, we'll highlight local produce and the folks who labor to bring it to us. In the months ahead, you'll discover what can be found at our local farmers markets and what to do with the bounty. You'll hear about the growers who are bringing some of the finest produce and meats in the country to our local restaurants and what the chefs of those establishments are cooking up.

Just around the corner: Ramps are a potent symbol of an Appalachian spring. Photo courtesy ASAP

For our inaugural column, we've invited Kari Brayman to whet your appetites for the fruits of spring. Brayman is the coordinator of Crop Mob West, which you can read more about in this week's The Dirt feature. She is also the communications director for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Organization.

As always, we invite you to participate as we develop our food section. Send any ideas you have to food@mountainx.com.
— Mackensy Lunsford

Enough's enough

Most of us Appalachian folk are done with the colder-than-usual, snowy winter weather and ready for spring. Though some gardeners may have already planted their peas, beans or spring greens, it may seem like an eternity before anything sprouts. Seasonal eating can be a bit limited in the darker days of the year. Fortunately, a veritable vegetable symphony is right around the corner. In the meantime, here are some local foods we can look forward to in the coming months:

Fresh from the farm

Potatoes are great, but shades of green are glorious: It's finally time to get excited about peas, beans, asparagus, Swiss chard and spinach. Onions and salad mix line up next — and before you know it, we'll be eating tomatoes.

Right now, local farmers are busy preparing beds, starting seeds and taking CSA subscriptions. If you haven't signed up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), now is the time to get your share. A good resource for finding CSAs is the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project's Local Food Guide, a free directory of family farms, CSAs, distributors and more. The guide can be seen online at www.buyappalachian.org and it's distributed in print to more than 400 locations annually.

Get prepared

Sustainable eating requires consumers to be able to work with what's available in a given season, and staying ahead of the game is the trick to enjoying local food year-round. Now's a good time to prepare for the height of the season by considering an extra fridge to store local farm products or finally preparing that cellar to keep root veggies. Spring and summer provide a bounty, so get out the canning stuff and prepare for a harvest party. A great local resource for canning is www.pickyourown.org.

Get wild

Wild foods are abundant in Western North Carolina. We don't need to wait for the farmers' market to enjoy the native foods sourced right from our own backyards. Chickweed, cress, wild onions, garlic, leeks (ramps) and mint may be harvested in early spring. Chickweed can be used in place of basil in pesto, and wintercress can be tossed with other greens for a spring salad. Wild greens promote good health — cleansing the liver and kidneys and providing balance after a winter of heavy foods.

Carnivores, try chopping up ramps and adding them to ground beef for a WNC delicacy — ramp burgers. Hickory Nut Gap Farm (www.hickorynutgapfarm.com) or Crooked Creek Farms (www.foothillsfamilyfarms.org) are both great sources for local beef. Want to try something different? Imladris Farms (www.imladrisfarm.com) in Fairview is now raising rabbits in addition to growing fine berries.

Folks in these mountains have been known to prepare squirrel and coon too. I think I'll draw the line there, but just in case you're one of those idealistic types, shooting for "super-duper sustainable" status, get yourself a bow and arrow and hit the woods, Daniel Boone-style. Or — you could just wait for the farmers' market.

Want to learn more about wild foods? The 35th Annual Wild Food Weekend, hosted by Wild Food Adventures, will take place April 23 to 25. For information, visit www.wildfoodadventures.com.

To learn more about sustainable eating or to contact Kari Brayman, visit www.carolinafarmstewards.org.

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