The term “seasonal eating” dates back to the earliest days of farming, but it is a buzz term used by restaurants, chefs, farmers, and even dietitians. But what does it mean? How does one eat seasonally, or eat locally with the produce that is available each month?
Well, it begins with understanding that each fruit or vegetable has a growing cycle. When something such as peaches or a bunch of carrots reach their peak maturity, or peak growth, they are harvested by the farmer. These plants that are harvested are, generally, at their prime and offer maximum flavor and maximum nutrition. Fruits and vegetables that are allowed to ripen naturally, but are consumed shortly after harvesting, contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants when compared to produce that has traveled long distances or sits on grocery store shelves for long periods of time.
Understanding Growing Cycles
Spring: “cool season” crops that begin to germinate in colder soil and can tolerate cold temperatures; these include asparagus, spinach, radishes, rhubarb, and ramps.
Summer: “warm season” crops that thrive in hot conditions and are sensitive to frost; these include stone fruits, cucumber, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and summer squash.
Autumn: these crops tend to be harvested for storage; these include hard-skinned winter squashes, root veggies, onions, and potatoes.
Winter: these crops tend to also be harvested for storage; these include potatoes, kale, yams, turnips, rutabagas, and carrots.
The best way to find local produce, or to understand what is in season and when, is to simply research it. An even better way is to talk to farmers directly! They know their crops and harvest better than anyone. Take a trip to your local farmers’ market and speak to the farmers or vendors about their produce, how it is grown and/or treated, and what is at peak harvest for that month and the following months. As you spend more time at the market, you will begin to notice how the fruits and vegetables change month to month. It is important to note that farmers are not grocers, meaning they will only sell what they grow and harvest. That is what makes markets informational places to learn about the seasonality of food.
The longer a fruit or vegetable takes to get from field to table, the more nutrient loss occurs. Local, seasonal produce, and even frozen fruits and vegetables, are picked (and frozen) at peak freshness so all those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are maintained. Those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants provide the body with the essential micronutrients to prevent infections, keep the nervous system healthy, ensure blood clots properly, and even enhance cognition and memory. But eating local, seasonal produce does not just benefit you and your health, but the planet’s health as well.
Today, food choices and diet are considered critical areas for sustainability. Seasonality is a lever of sustainability. By buying from local farmers' markets, you are supporting your community as well as helping the local economy. How? Well, when you purchase food from local farmers, that money stays within your community and creates more jobs for local workers such as farmers. Furthermore, in order to stock that fresh produce, especially if it is out of season, box grocery stores pay to transport food by planes, trains, and automobiles from other cities, states, or countries. The gas and oil to power those cargo vehicles creates carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse gases. By purchasing locally grown food, you can slowly, but surely, help reduce emissions and help the planet in the process.
Not only does it feel good to cut back on the carbon footprint, but it feels good to interact with the farmers and growers in your local community. Not only does it feel good to try out different seasonal produce from your state, but it feels good to know that your fruits and vegetables are at peak nutrient content and provide you with incredible health and nutrition benefits!
Macdiarmid, J. (2014). Seasonality and dietary requirements: Will eating seasonal food contribute to health and environmental sustainability? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 73(3), 368-375. doi:10.1017/S0029665113003753
Régnier, F., Dalstein, A.-L., Rouballay, C., & Chauvel, L. (2022). Eating in Season—A Lever of Sustainability? An Interview Study on the Social Perception of Seasonal Consumption. Sustainability, 14(9), 5379. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/su14095379