Winter brings challenges to local growing

Local growers and businesses that use their products face difficulties providing produce for the market as soon as the weather turns cold and things stop growing.

Sean Gallagher of Local Source Market (Steve Large photo)

By Steve Large

Winter is tough on local growers and businesses that use their products.

Locally grown foods have become a staple of the Haligonian diet with the promise of freshness, quality, and production within a snug radius of the city.

For many local growers, colder weather means relying on what has been harvested and is inside cold storage to satisfy a market hungry for organic and local foods.

“There’s only so much that we can do to try and provide good growing conditions for our plants,” says Norbert Kungl, the proprietor for Norbert’s GoodFood and Selwood Green Farm. “If it gets cold, there’s really not much we can do.”

Cold weather makes the work slow and miserable for people in the field, Kungl says. Early and unexpected spring frosts can wipe out entire harvests in a matter of hours.

Even businesses like Kungl’s, that grow their own vegetables and devote themselves to local and seasonal food, sometimes have to make exceptions in order to meet the demand. This often means reaching beyond the local sphere.

“We use as much of our own produce as we can,” Kungl says. “The variety of things that we have in the winter time is quite limited and therefore, we import organic produce through Pete’s Frootique.

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Norbert Kungl on local growers and farmer’s markets.

Sean Gallagher, the owner of Local Source Market, says that with the exception of organic butter and certain ingredients that don’t grow in Nova Scotia, he doesn’t go beyond the province to get what he needs.

“We have to plan ahead,” Gallagher says. “We have to work with the growers that are our main suppliers and have the capacity to hold a lot of their crops for us. So we speak to them and have to basically commit to them in advance for the winter.”

Gallagher says during the summer, his business makes preserves such as sauerkraut to help see them through the winter.

Even with careful planning, cold snaps and other weather events sometimes destroy an entire crop before it has a chance to grow, leaving businesses like Local Source Market with a new set of challenges.

“We have to roll with the punches,” says Gallagher. “We’re basically in the same boat as all of our suppliers. If we know that it’s going to be tight and we track the weather, we can set some of those things aside in our own cold storage so we can keep it for a special event.”

Gallagher says a cold snap earlier this year killed many greenhouse vegetables but his growers were able to adjust and respond to that crop failure.

“I see a lot of potential in the marketplace for people to really start planning ahead for the winters in order to round out their growing season and have specialty things available,” Gallagher says.

“There’s definitely a demand and it’s growing.”

“If you want to buy and live sustainably and promote local farming and local business and promote a local food system, I think you just educate yourself about availability and go to places where producers sell their crops.”

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Sean Gallagher on facing the challenges of winter.

Some growers, like Kevin Graham, also look at the winter for the positive effects that it can have for farmers.

Graham says it makes certain tasks easier, such as moving bales of hay, since he is not stuck in the mud. He also says he’s happy when winter comes because it kills all of the insects.

“If we don’t have cold enough winters than insect populations will [grow] over,” he says. “So then you get a build-up of insects in the environment. If we get a blast [of cold weather] like we’ve had this year, it should reduce those insect populations significantly.”

The bitterness of winter can sometimes leave growers without a crop to sell and Kungl says that it’s important for consumers to know that sometimes a vegetable might not be there for them.