The Allure of March

On the cusp of good eating

By Jan Leitschuh

March can either frost us or tempt us with promises of spring. Dreams of fresh produce awaken the taste buds. It’s a good time to clean up the garden, even plant a few items.

Early March, we can put in the sugar snap peas, some beets, carrots, spinach, radishes and Swiss chard. Your odds are good. Tough transplants of broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, cabbage, chives and onions can go in now if a glance at the weather forecast looks promising. Set out your potatoes. Hold off till at least month’s end (if not longer) for corn, tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant, basil and cucumbers.

Have a cover ready for that inevitable night in the mid-20s. Cross your fingers, and hope the deer and the bunnies steer clear.

Yet we know that many here in the Sandhills will never plant so much as a seed — and that’s fine. Life is busy, your soil is poor, there’s little interest, the neighborhood or the sun exposure doesn’t support the growing of produce, the old knees aren’t what they used to be. But, if you still love a strawberry, those sweet early greens, juicy fresh peaches, spring asparagus and tender sweet corn, the next best way to experience the freshest tastes is to buy just-picked produce from a Sandhills someone who did.

With the advent of produce programs outside the area, including Amazon moving into the fresh food space, it’s good to distinguish items grown right here by our fellow citizens, enriching our local economy and preserving our local green spaces.

“For every dollar you spend on truly local produce, it circulates within our economy,” says Lorraine Berman, acting general manager of Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative (SF2T). “If we buy local produce, and the farmer hires and spends locally, well, it really contributes a lot more than if you spent those food dollars outside the area.”

Besides, she adds, “Fresh, local produce just tastes amazing.”

I’ve said it before, but the in the early decade of this century, Moore County virtually led the nation for loss of farmland. This tide has stabilized, in part due to the support of the community in creating a market for local tastes. In fact, one essential aspect of the new 2018-2020 Moore County Economic Development Strategic Plan is simply “to keep Moore County farmers farming.”

“Because agriculture is 25 percent of our local economy,” says Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress.

Your support does this. You provide the markets that keep Sandhills farmers farming.

There are a number of ways to enjoy the tastes of the Sandhills. Finest of all is to visit a local farm during fruit-picking season. Strawberries top the popular list in mid-April, and in the giddiness of early spring, what could be finer than taking the kids to a pick-your-own field? A month or two later, you can find pick-your-own blueberries, blackberries and maybe even grapes during the summer season. Don’t delay; the season for any juicy fruit crop is short. A farmer’s own stand will offer a cornucopia of summer bounty.

Another way is to visit local farmers markets for a variety of seasonal treats, meats and cheeses. At peak season, you can buy fresh almost every day of the week. You can speak to your producers directly, pick up preparation tips, learn something about how your produce was grown, run into your friends and neighbors. Local farmers markets also kick off in April, with the market on Morganton Road open Thursdays throughout the year with meats, greenhouse produce and more.

Another program with genuine impact on the local farm economy is the Sandhills Farm to Table box program, distributing the full bounty of the Sandhills season. Entering its ninth year, the community-owned program requires a certain number of subscriptions by April each year to remain viable, but the positive impact on local farmers is undeniable. “It makes a difference,” says John Blue of Highlander’s Farm. “It really does.”

Many Sandhills farmers enjoy picking a crop the afternoon before, or even that morning, and delivering wholesale quantities to the SF2T packing house, getting better than wholesale prices for their labor and the day free to do what they do best — grow food. They take their stewardship of the land and “their” subscribers very personally, going the extra mile to replace any item (packed by community volunteers) deemed sub-optimal after delivery.

This year, SF2T will kick off its subscription drive March 1, with a public community celebration at the Sunrise Theater, screening the film Sustainable, followed by local bites and spirits at 305 Trackside. Tickets for the movie-and-food event are available at the Sunrise website. Subscription to SF2T boxes of weekly or biweekly produce is available at the movie event or email info@sandhillsfarm2table.com.

“We are often overwhelmed by the news and problems of the world, convinced that we are helpless to effect change,” says Berman. “But all things large start out small; every marathon starts with that first step. Eating local food and subscribing to Sandhills Farm to Table is that first step toward better health, to protecting the environment, toward improving our local economy, and toward a kinder community and better quality of life.”

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of the Sandhills Farm to Table Cooperative.

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