A Thanksgiving Harvest

Fall is here…at least the calendar indicates that but the weather, though now quite pleasant, has been above normal and we experienced a very hot October with temperatures in the low 90’s! This created several problems for our local farmers, ready to start planting those fall crops that thrive on cooler temperatures. « One of the most challenging times in Florida, is the transition between warm weather crops to cool weather crops » states one of our local growers in Micanopy, « You are just never sure what the weather is going to do ». Typically in our growing region, which covers portions of north central, northeast and central Florida, the fall growing season is usually late August through February, depending on the crop. ( see a list of vegetable production guides from IFAS ). With temperatures peaking above normal for this time of year, adjustments had to be made.

I recently asked growers if the weather has had an influence on their fall planting schedule and also asked what crops consumers can expect to see in the markets over the coming weeks. A number of growers responded with similar stories. Many start seedlings in late August and early September, either in flats or directly in the ground, looking for a harvest target from late October through February, depending on the crop. Several growers had to re-sow many varieties of lettuces, cilantro and dill that germinated well and then failed when nighttime temperatures remained warm. Most farms now are in full swing with their production and fall crops are now showing up in our farmer’s markets across the area.

Mustard greens, radishes, lettuces and some turnips usually take around 25 – 40 days to mature, depending on variety and I am seeing these in markets. Cassels Family Organics had beautiful mustard greens for sale at the Melrose Community Market on Friday. Bette Levin, a grower in Melrose, is looking forward to mid-November when her crop will soon be ready for harvest, « My heirloom lettuce varieties and chards should be best sellers due to the unusual nature of heirlooms in a salad mix , and the basic brilliant, nutritious nature of veggies grown using the biodynamic method. » As the weeks progress we can all look forward to a wide variety of popular greens, winter squashes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage and onions.

Thanksgiving is next week and these locally grown vegetables will be enjoyed by many of us, whether we are eating at home or perhaps dining out. For those who are eating in, it may be time to take advantage of our locally grown pumpkins and try some new recipes. Stefanie Hamblen, well know in Gainesville for her website Hogtown Homegrown, which features local and seasonal recipes, states « When fall comes and the days get cooler, I love to slow roast veggies in the oven. Large hard winter squash, especially indigenous calabasas and Seminole pumpkins, yield many cupfuls of usable flesh, filled with vitamins and other nutrients. The roasted pumpkin can be eaten as is, with toppings, baked into pies and custards or cooked into delicious soups. » Stefanie kindly offered these recipes:

If you happen to be eating out over the holidays, you will definitely want to stop in at Mildred’s Big City FoodChef Bert Gillhas long been an advocate and supporterbertGill of buying fresh, locally grown produce. Gill has established relationships with local growers and producers, from which he purchases about 70% of his produce, meat and seafood. With fall crops coming in, Chef Gill looks forward to the leafy greens, now in season such as kale, mustard greens, salad lettuces and radishes. Visit Mildred’s Big City Food’s website and try one of the many seasonal recipes that Chef Gill includes in his online cookbook and watch his instructional videos on food preparation!

We have a strong local food community in the Gainesville area, from growers, producers, markets, restaurants and numerous organizations whose goal is to promote and support fresh, locally grown produce. Offer your support to organizations that are playing a big role in helping those without this Thanksgiving like Trinity United Methodist Church, sponsoring their Annual Thanksgiving Basket Food DriveThe Bread of the Mighty, and Gainesville Harvest. In this season of thanksgiving, please take the time to appreciate and thank those who continually work toward developing a secure, sustainable food economy for the greater Gainesville area. Happy Thanksgiving!