February doesn’t seem like the most advantageous time of year to be eating farm-to-table in Pennsylvania. Living off the land is not an easy thing to do here; the typical growing season is 6 months long. But Lancaster County is the agricultural mecca of PA. Eating local through the winter isn’t as difficult as you may think. Whether you’re planning to dine out, or shop at one of the many year-round farmers markets, there are plenty of options to choose from.
What local foods are available in Lancaster County at this time of year?
Meat, dairy, and eggs are, of course, year-round staples. Be sure to try the local cheeses and ring bologna. Pickled and fermented foods are key in eating farm-to-table through the winter season (don’t miss the sauerkraut!) Also, February is the perfect time to crack open a jar of peach or strawberry preserves. The selection of PA-grown produce will be more lean than warmer months, but you’re still likely to find flavorful, nutritious veggies like brussel sprouts, squashes, hardy green leafies, root vegetables, and mushrooms at farmers markets and on restaurant menus. With the help of greenhouses, some farms are extending their growing seasons and expanding the variety of local produce available in winter months.
Where should I go to get in on the farm-to-table action?
Farmers Markets (year-round) You’ll find produce, meats, dairy, home goods, and plenty of other Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch specialties.
- Green Dragon Farmers Market & Auction Ephrata, Fridays 9AM-9PM* A local institution with the saying, “If you can’t buy it at the Green Dragon, it chust ain’t fer sale!”
- Lancaster Central Market Downtown Lancaster, Tues & Fri 6AM-4PM, Sat 6AM-2PM* For a day about town, visit the oldest farmers market in the country, established in 1730.
- Root’s Country Market & Auction Manheim, Tuesdays 9AM-8PM* Hit this huge market on your way out of town. Pick up some produce and baked goods to take home, or browse hand-made furniture.
Farm-to-Table Restaurants Whether grown on-site or procured from nearby farms, these restaurants specialize in seasonal and responsibly sourced ingredients (often organic or equivalent produce and pasture-raised animals.)
- Wyebrook Farm Honeybrook, Wed-Sat 11AM-3PM & 5PM-9PM, Sun 10AM-3PM & 5PM-9PM* This 360 acre sustainable farm has an ever-changing menu of delicious offerings. All meat served is from animals pasture-raised on site. A market & butcher shop are also on site. BYOB (perhaps a growler from Black Forest Brewery?) Seasonal specialties include mushroom sage soup and herb roasted pork sirloin. Save room for the salted honey pie!
- John J Jeffries Downtown Lancaster, Mon-Sat 5:30PM-10PM, Sun 5:30PM-9:00PM* Serving seasonal fare like a poached beet winter salad and grass-fed dry-aged steak with smoked onion reduction.
- Maison Downtown Lancaster, Wed-Sat 5PM-11PM* Try the handmade burrata mozzarella and slow-cooked rabbit with gnocchi and kale.
*Please verify open hours before visiting!
All this sounds great… Why is Farm-to-Table so awesome?
While the phrase itself is currently regarded as an American trend in the restaurant world, true farm-to-table cuisine has historically been anything but trendy; it used to be the only way people ate.. all year long. It’s hard to imagine living without the big box grocery stores that we have become so accustomed to, providing even cold-winter states with berries and bananas anytime we desire. Granted, trucking in food from California and Mexico has allowed us to eat a more balanced diet than our colonial ancestors. Relying primarily on food grown thousands of miles away, however, is detrimental to local economies and food security. Not to mention, fossil fuels are burned and chemicals emitted into the atmosphere during all of this food transport. By eating locally and seasonally, we support local farms and businesses, and develop self-sufficient food systems in our communities. The greater the demand for farm-to-table, the greater the local supply will become, thus increasing food security in places like Pennsylvania. This helps ensure that agricultural land in PA will continue to be used as such, rather than sold to developers who will build more big box stores.
Eating locally today is almost always a healthier way to eat, both for our bodies and for the environment. It means that we eat more whole foods rather than processed ones. It means that the animals we eat probably spent their days grazing in pastures (more common on small local farms) and lived much healthier lives than those raised on industrial feedlots. If we eat organic or otherwise responsibly farmed produce (again, more common on small local farms), we reduce the amount of toxins we put into our bodies. When we eat farm-to-table, there is a greater likelihood of knowing the exact source of our food, whether or not it was grown free of toxic chemicals, and to what degree the animals were humanely raised. Eating locally reduces the amount of time for food to get from the field to our plates, meaning it tastes better and is more nutritious. There’s nothing like eating fresh produce just picked the day before, or a juicy and flavorful piece of pasture-raised chicken. There is a sense of comfort and primal connection made when we know that our meal is comprised of living things that were grown nearby.
So even though it may be frigid outside, get out and enjoy the Lancaster area restaurants and markets that put farm-to-table front and center. Learn more about the region, support local businesses, and eat some amazing food! You won’t be disappointed.