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Extending Local Wintertime Organic Crops For Pacific Northwest Growers And Chefs

As eating local and organic produce gains popularity, researchers are looking for more crops that can extend the growing season through the winter months in the Northwest.

Getting through the dark days of winter is tough for all of us here, but if you’re a farmer, it’s especially hard. The demand for local and organic produce doesn’t go away, but there aren’t that many crops that keep growing. The Organic Seed Alliance is looking for ways to help, by growing trial varieties that have potential in the local climate. Laurie McKenzie runs a research farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Chimacum.

“So, helping farmers extend their financial season into the winter months, which can be challenging for cash flow, particularly for farmers. And also, continue to provide local food for consumers and communities, through the winter months,” McKenzie said.    

The Seed Alliance has just released trial results highlighting new varieties of onions and cabbages that grow well here and store well for use through the winter. And they’re excited about two crops that can be grown in the coldest months and harvested in February and March: chicory and purple sprouting broccoli. Both offer foliage that bring a splash of color to winter landscapes, but McKenzie is especially fond of the sprouting broccoli.

"It’s beautiful: a tall, slightly bushier broccoli plant, but instead of getting a single head, you get all these long sprouts and generally they’re on green or slightly purple-tinged stems," she said. "And then the sprout tops looks like a tiny broccoli head. They’re usually about an inch and a half in diameter. And they’re bright purple.”

She says because they grow in winter, the plant concentrates sugar and so the stems are especially sweet. "Kind of like broccoli candy," she said.

The chicory is a bitter lettuce-like plant, so it's more of an acquired taste, but she says the key is dressing it with an acidic dressing (such as one with lots of lemon) to balance the flavors.  

The Seed Alliance will work with local chefs and distributors to help popularize the use of both crops, in hopes that these can become new niche produce from the Pacific Northwest.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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