Ann Arbor Film Festival


October 24, 2011

Adventures in Local Food #11


Occupy the Seasons!

Now that the leaves are changing color and fall is officially upon us, you may think that the growing season here in Michigan has drawn to a close. Fresh tomatoes have been replaced by kale and pumpkins at local grocers, people are turning their attention to cider mills and haunted houses, and here in Ypsi, the farmer’s markets are just about over for the season. In reality, though, fall and winter crops are just hitting their stride (pretty lucky for me since I love radishes!) and soon the winter edition of the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer’s Market will be hitting the Corner Brewery twice a month in November and December.

So, not only is the local growing season not over for us, but certain vegetables like spinach, broccoli, pac choi and other members of the cabbage family actually taste better in the cold weather. In fact, the collards and kale I’ve harvested out of the snow have been some of the sweetest greens I’ve ever eaten. Ironically, the farmers I worked with at the Watts Healthy Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles in 2009 wouldn’t believe me when I told them that certain vegetables would grow under such conditions (i.e. outside in the snow) AND be delicious. That is, at least until they saw my photos…

The misconception that year-round growing can only happen in California, Florida or other warmer climates overseas is actually pretty widespread. The question I always get when I’m abroad or out of state describing my work as an urban farmer, sociologist and local food activist here in Michigan is, “How do you grow food during a cold Michigan winter?” or “Isn’t it too cold there to grow food?”. Perhaps this question is motivated by the near monopoly California and Florida agriculture has in our industrial food system or perhaps by the trend of agribusiness corporations outsourcing production to the Global South where climates are warmer and wages are lower. Or, perhaps it’s simply another residue of many people having no idea where their food comes from or how it is grown. I guess they’ve also never heard of Siberian or Red Russian Kale. Regardless of the reasoning, though, the point remains that most people think that once October hits, there’s no more local food until the spring.

Au contraire, mes amis! We’re just getting started! Urban farmers and gardeners alike are now busy with their cold weather crops and also with planting garlic, tulips and other plants traditionally sown in the fall. But that’s not all. This is also the time of year when we start hearing the words cold frame, row cover, low tunnel, high tunnel, passive solar hoophouse, window farming, indoor growing operation (of food!) and greenhouse. Aside from seasonal vegetables like kale that love the cold, there are many methods that people around Michigan and other northern climates around the world use to extend the growing season of plants less enthusiastic about the approach of cold weather. Utilizing that technology, farmers right here in Michigan can now grow food 48 weeks out of the year!

But, what on earth is a cold frame, you ask? A hoophouse? There’s not the space here to fully describe all these technologies, but a cold frame is basically a raised bed garden with a slanted window top (great for growing lettuces, carrots, etc.), while a hoophouse is basically a plastic-sided temporary greenhouse structure where you grow food in the ground instead of in pots on shelves. Both structures are totally solar-powered, not heated, and often made using reclaimed, sustainable materials. For example, in our cold frame we used an old storm window – and I’ve seen hoop structures using everything from repurposed plastic bottles to old tires and scrap wood.

The USDA has also begun to fund the construction of hoophouses to help local growers extend their season, which encouraged the Michigan Farmer’s Market Association (MIFMA) to partner with Michigan State University to build hoophouses for farmers who will pay back the cost of installation through selling produce to folks on food assistance. Ann Arbor’s SELMA cafe also offers a more for-profit hoop installation program linked to the Tillian Farm project. And I just gave a tour of Frog Island Community Garden to Michigan Engineering students who are working on a project with Growing Hope to develop prototypes for season extension tech designed specifically for raised bed gardens.

If you want to learn more about season extension technology, the best source is acclaimed farmer Eliott Coleman:  HYPERLINK “”

And here’s some greenhouses made using reclaimed sustainable materials:  HYPERLINK “”

Lastly, the Winter Downtown Ypsi Farmer’s Market will be held from 3 – 7 p.m. on November 8 and 22 and December 13 and 20 (all Tuesdays) at the Corner Brewery. I will be have some very special Nightshade Industries sauces on offer, so I hope to see your smiling faces there. As always: Ypsi-Grown! Ypsi-Made!














About the Author

Stefanie Stauffer
Stefanie Stauffer
Highly active in the local food movement and resident urban farmer, Stefanie is our local food fighter. She writes our ever popular "Adventures in Local Food" and various Foodie columns. You can find her at the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmer's Market or just about any other community event. Like hot sauce? Reach out to Stefanie and order some of her very own from Nightshade Army Industries.

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