Early spring windfalls and woes

If you are a local food fan, you’d better pay attention to the weather.  What happens now has a ripple effect for the rest of the season.  The topsy-turvy, every-which-way weather that we’ve been experiencing this spring brings both good and bad.

The good news?  Due to the mild winter and early warm temperatures, many crops are emerging a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.  You can now find local spinach and foraged ramps at some Twin Cities area co-ops, while asparagus and foraged morel mushrooms showed up at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Saturday.

Looking for ideas on what to do with some of these early spring foods?  Check out these IN SEASON posts:

Ramps

Morel mushrooms

Asparagus

Out of all of these early visitors, my money is on the foraged foods.  While I’m excited to hear that asparagus has shown up early, it will be around for so long that you’ll be able to eat your fill and get tired of it.  Not so with the fleeting delicacies of spring that can’t be commercially cultivated.

So, go out and gather ye ramps and morels while ye may, because in the blink of an eye, they’ll be gone again for another year.

***

Now, onto the bad news.  Weather can be cruel and unpredictable.  You can do everything perfectly as a farmer and still get screwed by Mother Nature.  Temperature fluctuations at the wrong time can wreak havoc with crops and severe weather such as high winds and hail can damage or decimate the year’s harvest.

This year’s mild winter and abrupt switch to warm weather in early March meant that local maple syrup production was affected.  Maple trees need warm days and cold nights for the sap to flow well and this year, the night temperatures didn’t follow this pattern, so the yield this year is lower than usual.

When the weather gets warm and crops start emerging earlier than normal, that means some of them are very vulnerable to cold snaps and a hard freeze can be fatally damaging if it happens at the wrong time.  Untiedt’s Vegetable Farm, a Minneapolis Farmers Market vendor, recently wrote a blog post about the challenges dealing with the cold spring weather.  Asparagus and recent transplants are taking a beating in particular.

Certain crops that grow low to the ground can be covered up but, apple trees?  They’re much more exposed.  When the flowering apple trees look so beautiful, it’s hard to believe that anything menacing can be at hand.

Apples are a major Minnesota crop.  The recent hard freeze in Minnesota significantly damaged many apple varieties, especially those that usually show up at the market in August and early September.  Local apple growers will not know for a while the true extent of the damage, but I’ve seen mentions that early season varieties like Zestar and crabapples were especially hard hit.

One of my favorite local apple growers, Sweetland Orchard, has already announced that Sweetland will not be at any of the local farmers markets this year where they normally have booths – Mill City, Northeast, Fulton, Kingfield, and Bloomington Farmers Markets.  Apples will only be available through the orchard itself.

It’s a good reminder for us consumers that our food system is fragile.  We should count ourselves lucky to have the local food that we have and remember the toil that it takes to bring it to our plate.

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