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Rutabagas, Turnips and Beets, Oh My!

January 3, 2011

OXFORD, Conn. - It's definitely winter in Connecticut, and the Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) was just awarded a $37,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be used to promote winter food crops. This comes as winter farmers' markets and winter CSAs - Community Supported Agriculture programs - are on the rise in the state.

Bill Duesing, NOFA executive director, says one way farmers can expand winter CSAs is by growing cold-hardy species. Another is to protect plants from low temperatures by growing them under plastic tunnels.

"With the high tunnels, one layer of plastic gives you the equivalent of moving a zone south in climate. If you put another layer of plastic -- a low layer of plastic -- inside, on little wire hoops, then you may be able to go two zones south in temperature."

Currently, only 1 percent of the food Nutmeggers eat is grown in the state, he says. By extending the growing season and educating farmers and consumers, Connecticut NOFA aims to increase that percentage substantially.

Duesing says wintertime farmers' markets have grown rapidly over the past year or two, because farmers have more of what are considered winter crops to sell.

"People now are growing products that are easy to store - you grow them in the summer but you store them for winter use - such as squash, potatoes, onions, garlic, dried beans, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, beets, parsnips...."

Increasing Connecticut-grown food to just 5 percent would benefit both farmers and eaters, Duesing adds.

The grant will allow Connecticut NOFA to hold three conferences and four on-farm workshops toward its goal of creating new - or improving existing - systems for winter food specialty crops.

Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT