Throughout most of the history of the United States, produce was consumed locally, rather than being shipped in from elsewhere around the country. So, people developed regional cuisines and ate what was in season, and relied upon root cellars to store vegetables for winter consumption. “And, before that, people used to go outside and dig a hole,” says Farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden, “to store winter cabbage, carrots and beets in the cooler soil, and then they’d cover them up with straw.”
Although winter farming has become more sophisticated, the general principles remain the same. “It’s important to listen to Mother Nature,” Lee says, “and to work with natural rhythms. We still harvest for winter storage, emulating our grandparents’ root cellar concept, leaving the soil on the vegetables as long as possible because that holds in the moisture. We don’t clean off the soil until it’s time for shipping. That said, we have a strong food safety focus and carefully monitor for both temperature and humidity.”
Lee shares how a common perception – that produce can’t grow in the winter time – is untrue. “In fact,” he says, “we’re growing some of our best vegetables in the winter. We are sustainably driven and we are growing these vegetables slowly and gently, in full accord with nature. For example, it might only be 15 to 20 degrees outside but, using cold frames to harness the sun’s energy, it’s more like 45 to 50 degrees around our vegetables, and that’s enough sun, energy and heat to grow our lettuce and spinach slowly and gently.”
Another misconception is that the farm to table movement is relatively new. In fact, The Chef’s Garden has been committed to the Earth to Table® philosophy for nearly 30 years now, committed to providing the most flavorful specialty products directly to chefs, nutritionally dense products that are of the highest quality.
To expound upon the connection between flavor and winter vegetables, Lee provides an analogy comparing well-known facts about wine to lesser-known ones about vegetables. “Young wine,” he says, “often has a green flavor that improves with maturity, and extensive studies have shown that the same is true with vegetables. So, we test the sugar readings of our vegetables with a refractometer and, from days 62 to 120, we get the highest readings as sugar continues to improve. Our carrots, beets and celery roots, for example, are testing off the charts, with numbers that are 50 to 80 percent higher, and this translates into optimal flavor.”
The Chef’s Garden provides these vegetables to chefs and carefully listens to their feedback to continue to provide exactly what they need for their culinary dishes. This, in fact, is what motivates our team, enriches our work and inspires us each and every day: winter, spring, summer and fall.
Spinach and lettuce, sustainably farmed in the winter at The Chef’s Garden, has incredible flavor. The ice spinach actually takes four times as long to grow, but the end result is more than worth the wait. With weather fluctuations, it freezes and thaws, but can be successfully picked during morning thaws. “It’s so exciting to grow these vegetables,” Lee says, “and then to share them with the world.”
We invite you to browse our 700-plus products. For your convenience, you can also review only the vegetables, greens, herbs, edible flowers and more that are currently available.