Different seasons mean different things: fall is college football, summer is beach season, and winter is marked by the Holidays. Food used to be the same way. Have you ever noticed that Strawberries are best in the summer, that all of a sudden come September there are about 10 more varieties of apples available in the super market, and that pears are everywhere in November? Nowadays you can get most fruits and vegetables year round, imported from almost anywhere in the world, but once upon a time different seasons meant different fruits and vegetables, and if you wanted Strawberries in December, you’d better can them or make some jam. Here are a few reasons why the old way was better, why eating seasonal produce, preferably locally grown, is better for both you and the environment.
Nutritional value Fruits and vegetables have the most nutritional value (i.e. vitamins and minerals) when they are ripened on the stem and then picked. However, when they come from places far away, they are picked before ripeness and ripen along the way. So while they may gain color and size, they won’t gain nutritional value. This is one reason many people argue that fruits and vegetables don’t have the same nutritional content as they did 50 or 100 years ago.
Cost Seasonal produce is often cheaper for two reasons. For one, it grows more naturally in season and so requires less labor intensive care. Second, it often comes from a source closer to home. It’s easy to find USA produced strawberries and cherries in the summer for instance, but in February they all come from Mexico or Chile, which also adds the cost of transportation and gas to your grocery bill.
Flavor and Taste Fruits and vegetables taste better when they ripen on the stem versus in the back of a refrigerated truck. Buying seasonal produce means you get the most flavorful and tasty produce.
Sustainability This is a big buzz-word lately. But buying local, seasonal produce cuts down on the environmental impact of shipping food several thousand miles. It will also support your local farmer, keeping him in business to continue producing delicious fruit and vegetables.
What’s in Season When? Right now it’s summer, which means cantaloupe, cherries, corn, summer squash, champagne grapes, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, key limes, peaches, and strawberries to name a few. In addition, apples, bananas, celery, lettuce, carrots, onions, cherry tomatoes, and lemons among others are available year round. Visit the Fruits and Veggies: More Matters website for a complete list of spring, summer, fall, winter, and year round vegetables and fruits.
Find a Farmer’s Market! Nearly every city and town in America now has a farmer’s market. You can do a Google search or visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Marketing Service Web Page for a searchable directory of farmer’s markets. Just enter your zip code and search!