For us on the farm, the winter solstice marks both the end and the beginning of the year. We cannot help but be in tune with the rhythms of the seasons. We start new apprentices in the winter because it is the
slowest season. Our time is spent cloistered indoors, which provides endless opportunities for introductory lessons in garden planning, animal husbandry, soil science, etc. and glimpses into hay cutting, planting and selling produce at farmer’s markets that will serve apprentices well come spring and summer.
Winter is also the traditional time for harvesting and curing meat. After a summer of grazing, the sheep and cattle that are destined for the table are slaughtered in the fall and
winter. We make sausage, put bacon in the brine barrel hang meat in the smokehouse. Guanciale (Italian dry-cured pork jowl) is packed in salt, herbs, spices, and sugar to cure. Testa (the traditional Italian cold cut made of the meat of the pig’s head) is slowly simmered in a lemon broth. Producing these delicacies brings a sense of creative fulfillment to the shortest days of the winter, and a bounty that will feed and sustain us throughout the coldest weeks.
In our unheated solar-passive greenhouse, the summer crops have long been removed. Rich dark compost has been added to the beds and the seeding of winter crops–very cold tolerant, hardy plants such as lettuce, spinach, kale, carrots, etc.–commenced as the light began to wane and the days got dramatically shorter. The Mache and Claytonia didn’t wait for us. Those lovers of the short days and cold soil sprouted on their own in the unturned greenhouse beds that we neglected.
These plants offer stunning proof that local food is now breaking past the misperception that it can only be produced and readily available in the summer months. Not only our cured meat delicacies and stored root crops, but also the produce from our sun-warmed greenhouse contribute to sustaining us throughout the winter.
It’s an exciting time of year on the farm, full of new beginnings. In spite of the season’s state of retraction, the creativity, excitement and fulfillment of this winter bounty nourishes our spirits as it soon will nourish our bodies. Here’s to rebirth, renewal, and rebuilding—Happy New Year!