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Friday, December 23, 2016

Celebrating Winter, A Farmer's Perspective

In celebrating the seasons, we celebrate the cycle of life. Now the winter solstice is behind us, the days are already getting longer again, although winter is just beginning. Outside the window, a gentle snow is painting the landscape white, in festive fashion bedecking the trees and freshening up the lustre of the fields.

At this winter season, I become nature’s bear, entering a period of quiet hibernation  for resting up and recharging batteries in order to be ready for the growth and activity spurt that marks springtime. It is a time to reflect on the past growing season (this one having been a challenging one for our farm with the drought), and to peruse seed catalogues and make plans and dreams for the one that lies ahead. Plants are now dormant in the fields. Perennials and bulbs face a deep freeze to be tempered by a thick blanket of snow. Storms will rage, blizzards will pass through, snow will fall. They are safely snuggled up.

Some farmers remain active with livestock to tend and feed and breed; others have heated greenhouses to maintain and have the joy of observing plants growing all winter long. All the while, at year-round farmers markets like the one at Evergreen Brick Works farmers continue to serve the public with greenhouse produce, local cheeses, eggs, other dairy, meats, stored vegetables, fruits, nuts, berries, and seeds both from the farm and from the wild. In this way, they are extending the harvest of the summer season behind them.

Processors preserve this harvest, offering teas, herbs, spices, pickles, jams, jellies, fermented foods, honeys, and, of course, maple syrup. During the summer season our farm preserves the harvest by making freezer jams from the rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, plums, and peaches purchased at market. Freezer jams have less sugar and preserve the freshness of the fruit by not cooking it. Basil pesto is frozen in ice cubes for a pasta hit in the middle of winter. We also make tomato and apple sauces, and together with friends we press apple cider from our heritage apples and their own.

Food purveyors at market prepare and serve up dishes largely made from ingredients provided by local farms in this community. By supporting such markets through the winter season, you are supporting the efforts and livelihoods of local farmers and food artisans, as well as your own vitality and health. Adapting diet to the availabilities of the season and lifestyle to the changing weathers is a good stratagem.

Living in southern Ontario as we do, traditional winters are naturally long and cold, especially for those who hail from warmer climes. They take a bit of getting used to. Despite having lived here for some thirty five years, I still have to remind myself of this as my ears fast-freeze when going out hatless in  the brilliant sunshine of minus 30 temperatures! Adapt to the prevailing conditions of winter we must. A bracing walk in the bright sunshine, whether along city streets or out in the wild woods, is manna for the soul. As trees and  food plants go dormant in our gardens and fields, we can of course escape to  southern tropical sun for respite, as I prefer to do for part of my “bear-time”. We can equally embrace the great white outdoors here by hiking, cycling, chopping wood, skating at the rink, shussing down the slopes, cross-country ski-ing along tranquil trails, and snow-shoeing across pristine landscapes. Nature is glorious in all its urban and rural diversity and enhanced by the variety bestowed on her by the ever-changing seasons.

As I reflected in my book High Up in the Rolling Hills:

Over time, spirited seasons guide us onwards,
as the hazy summer days linger ahead of sticky, humid nights;
as the autumnal winds play with leaves all transformation;
as the winter snows will tumble and coat the realm white;
as the bitter storms will rage, then blow out in a whisper;
as the fresh buds of spring will burst forth with fluorescence;
and, for ever more, as night turfs out the light,
till morning rises on the other side of darkness.    

Perhaps no season is so starkly wondrous as our Canadian winter, so we may as well wrap up warm and celebrate it!