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Growing your own

Paul Roberts//December 16, 2013

Growing your own

By Paul Roberts

//December 16, 2013

It was single-digit cold in Joyce Shafer’s “high-tunnel” greenhouse, and her romaine and bok-choy were keeled over, flaccid. Nestled in rows under a breathable fabric supported by flexible rods bent into a half-moon two feet above the ground, her vegetables looked dead as orderly door-nails.

Bok Choy“As soon as the sun comes up,” says the energetic 60-something, “the greenhouse warms up and I peel back the row covers. The plants look like goners. If you touch them, they’ll die. But the sun heats the ground all day, then the fabric keeps that heat in and the plants alive, all night. In a couple of hours, they perk back up.”

We were already customers for Joyce’s grass-fed beef, no-antibiotic pork and farm eggs, at Shafer’s Heritage Farms in rural Preston County, West Virginia, not far from our winery. Advisors from West Virginia University Extension — Maryland Extension also pitches in, as her 300-acre family farm straddles the border— selected the cold-hardy plants for trial, and they insist she’ll have fresh vegetables all winter by just covering her rows at night, inside an unheated greenhouse.

The prospect of fresh greens with no sprays of any kind, from five miles away, has us plenty excited. The Asian lettuce and chard we rabbit-nibbled tasted great. Harvesting begins this week.

Surely, reader, we’re thinking alike! Local winter vegetables—and Preston County, at more than 2,000 feet elevation, is way colder than most of the East Coast — well, if Joyce can do it, why can’t hundreds of others?

Her farm also has a commercial kitchen, where she makes dozens of value-added jams, juices, and jellies—all sold at her little store.

A revolution is surely occurring. Substantial winter greenhouse operations in both Maryland and Virginia already serve nearby urban markets. And now it’s happening in rural regions, too.

Energy companies spend millions telling us how we live in an energy-hungry world. Their fix? New sources of fossil fuel they supply, so, for instance, Americans distant from California, Arizona, and Mexico can eat green vegetables all year long.

It took a couple of generations to get so far “off the farm,” so going back won’t happen overnight. Yet, I see it: we’re hungry all right — for saving energy, and growing our own.


Small BizBuzz Best Buy — Luis Duarte Agricultura 2011 Vinho Tinto (Alentejano, Portugal). Portuguese winemakers, with their fascinating native grape varieties, have always had an exciting flavor pallet to paint with, and here is gorgeous new work: traditional port variety Touriga Nacional, with Aragonez (aka Spain’s Tempranillo), and another native, Trincadeira. This purpley pretty has aromas of blackberries, mint, and spice, with a satisfying but not over-done fatness, and dark fruit flavors. Such wines somehow, to me, evoke the African continent just across the Mediterranean; I smell cumin, garbanzos, and singed thyme, and, sorry, but aren’t those drums beating? Great fun to enjoy with simple, savory foods. $11.


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