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How to Survive the Fresh Produce Dead Zone

Here in the Northeastern USA where I live, we are entering what I fondly call the Fresh Produce Dead Zone. The FPDZ is a period of time, not a place. It's that period of a few weeks in March and April where the shelves in our local produce markets are getting sparse

We have an amazing farm stand nearby that's really more like a supermarket for produce. Everything is as local as possible, but they import from gradually farther and farther away as the the winter wears on. And then we hit this period of time. This dead zone. The fresh strawberries were nowhere to be found and there were only the very greenest of bananas. The selection of produce is suddenly quite thin, and what is there is not looking its best.

Let me just pause here to marvel at how freaking blessed I am to be able to live where I do, in snowy rural New York State, and yet eat fresh produce all year long. We really do live in amazing times, don't we?

Oh, no, I feel a Hamilton quote coming on.

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. -Angelica Schuyler

But even though we're very spoiled most of the year, these few barren weeks can be challenging to those of us who live on plants. Even the root veggies we stored through the winter are looking rough. The potatoes are sprouting eyes and the carrots can only be saved by soaking them in a solution of starch and Viagra.

What’s a veggiesaurus to do?

Hit the freezer section

The grocer’s freezer section is a treasure trove of fruits and veggies. Frozen strawberries, cherries, and berries abound, and mixed groupings abound and every vegetable you can imagine.

Hit the canned goods section

Canned fruits and veggies lose a lot of nutrients in the process of, er, processing. If the same thing is available frozen, the frozen version will usually be better for us. And raw, of course, is best of all. But there’s barely any vegetable you can’t find canned.

Read labels. I like to look for as few ingredients as possible with no added sugar in the fruit. I watch the sodium, as it can be high in canned goods. You get to decide what you like to look for. But do look. Knowledge is power.

Hit the produce sections

Somehow, the big chain grocery stores seem to get a wider range of imported produce for a longer season than the smaller farm markets and independent grocers can. And while the quality is sometimes lower, we can still find enough produce to keep us going.

Freshen Up Saggy Produce

If your root veggies, potatoes, carrots, or parsnips are starting to get a little soft and droopy, cold water can perk them back up.

Wash your veggies. Scrape the outsides, trim off any eyes, chop the ends, cut them into the size you want to eat, and then drop them into a bowl of ice water.

This will also perk up wilting broccoli and salad greens.

Grow your own

It’s easy to create an indoor salad garden to last throughout the winter. With a decent light, good soil, and a little attention, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to grow salad greens year round, even if all we have are a couple of flowerpots and a sunny windowsill. Herbs do well indoors, too.

If you want to spend more and get fancier, there are dozens of versions of the indoor hydroponic gardens, such as the one above. There are even gigantic versions of them the size of a refrigerator. But personally, I like the flower pots in the windowsill method.

Tip: Pick up a cheap plastic "boot tray" to put on your windowsill, underneath the plants, to keep the water from ruining your wood.

Obviously the grow your own solution isn’t going to help much for this year’s calendar Dead Zone, since we are already in it. But if we let it inspire us to create our year-round, indoor mini-garden, then the Dead Zone of 2021 will have done its job.

A surreal moment

I think have to pause here for a momentary sidebar in which I acknowledge how weird it is for me to be concerned about not enough fresh produce, when the basis of my diet has been animal products for 59 years. As I write this post (though it will publish a week later) I am entering my third month living my own personal version of a plant-based life, and I have never felt better. My energy is through the roof. My mind is clear and sharp and quick. I am less forgetful. I am more ambitious, flowing with so much creative energy I can barely stop "working." (It's not work if you love it.) I am really so very happy with my decision. And so very blown away that I, a former carnivore, have come to love my veggies so much I worry when they get a bit scarce for a few weeks.

Take heart! It will pass

Yes, we're facing an annual death of fresh, yummy produce in my neck of the woods. But fortunately, we still have access to plenty of yummy options and we're making the most of every one of them.

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