Roughly 15 percent of all fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States are imported from outside our borders. Another huge chunk of our food supply travels thousands of miles across our country. … Local farmers who grow only during the traditional warm months also have a tendency to lose their market on the back side of the growing season when relationships with customers are severed for months at a time.
If we could find a way to produce vegetables locally 12 months a year we have the ingredients of a change that can make our nation move more food securely, provide more local employment, … increase the public health, and shield food costs from rising fuel costs.
A problem with widespread adoption of this concept is that people have an outdated notion that one cannot grow vegetables economically year around. This is no longer true.
I asked my friend and colleague Jon Kennedy to help me research solutions to this problem so we could prepare an article for http://www.optimisticfuturist.org. We found that Eliot Coleman has been perfecting the process of raising vegetables twelve months a year without heated greenhouses in Maine, of all places, for several decades. Combining the field and greenhouse crops, his gross income is $80,000 per acre per year!
According to Coleman, there are several misconceptions about winter gardening. For instance, not all crops need summer-like temperatures to thrive. While tomatoes may prefer higher heat, some vegetables like spinach and lettuce produce exceptionally well during the cooler seasons. Another common misunderstanding is that winter hours of sunlight are too short to allow growth. Coleman has found that it is not the total number of hours of daylight per day that matters as much as the total number of hours of daylight from planting until harvest. During shorter periods of sunlight, crops do take longer to mature from seed to harvest, but proper planting across a wide range of dates can compensate for this extra time, allowing 12-month harvest.
His farm sticks to three main principles to guide its operating philosophy: simplicity, low external inputs (including energy), and high quality outputs. By making the most effective use of this operating basis, Coleman has succeeded in creating an effective system during a season when plants are usually dormant. The simplest technology is used to generate an effective economy of scale that lengthens fresh vegetable crops through winter months, while providing local 12 month employment.
His main objective is to harvest at least three crops per year from every square food of the cold houses: two harvests in the long Maine winter and at least one in the summer. To increase the farm’s effectiveness during these unforgiving winter months, he strives to pick vegetables that have the greatest tolerance to cold temperatures, adheres to a strict schedule for planting and harvest, and ensures that his vegetables are under constant cover when the cold weather dictates. …Surprisingly, the vast majority of the vegetables Coleman produces during the winter are grown in the cold houses that use no supplemental heat.
The findings have been documented in the books [Coleman] authored, which include The New Organic Grower, Four Seasons Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook.
About the author:
Fran Koster, Ed.D. is a Rotarian. He is the author of several books, including Discovering the New America (2013), from which this excerpt is taken.
Francis Koster received his Doctorate from The Program for the Study of the Future at the University of Massachusetts, where he studied the implications of likely globalfuture trends and their impact on the public policy of the “life support systems” of Air, Water, Food, and Energy, the interplay between them, and their impact on public healthof The United States.
He has been an award winning innovator in Education, Energy, and Healthcare, serving at various times as student and staff at an experiment college, administrator of thenation’s largest renewable energy program, and Vice President for Innovation for the nation’s largest pediatric sub-specialty health system.
Post “retirement,” Dr. Koster maintains a consulting practice. His clients include the Duke University Graduate School of Nursing where he helped new curricula in the areas of leadership and project management, and the Catawba College Center for the Environment, among other clients. He is a frequent speaker to groups of adult leaders onmatters of public policy, sustainability, and life support systems.
Dr. Koster is married to Dr. Carol Spalding, President of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina.
In addition to his consulting practice and newspaper writing, Dr. Koster runs a website called TheOptimisticFuturist.org, which collects and displays proven solutions to known problems facing America.
Dr. Koster has served in the United States Army National Guard, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa.