For most of the world, food is always available and selections look the same from season to season. We may have to pay a higher price for fresh strawberries in the winter, or pumpkins in the summer, but we can buy them.
Seasonal eating may be a new buzz word, but it’s an old concept. Until the last century, humans were agrarian; only eating the foods their community could hunt or grow with some foods, like spices and teas, being traded only in the last couple of hundred years. By eating our own farmed or hunted foods we were eating a local, seasonal diet. Now, in the industrialized countries, we have access to the same foods no matter what our location or season. Most people eat the same basic foods week after week giving their diet very little variety.
Eating seasonally has both environmental and nutritional benefits. Environmentally, it takes a lot of energy to grow off season fruits and vegetables in green houses. We also eat a lot of imported foods. The majority of tomatoes and peppers are from Mexico and kiwi is shipped from New Zealand. Shipping requires using fuel based trains, trucks and boats and therefore creates off gassing of Carbon Dioxide, CO2. If refrigeration is required, then that may be using ozone depleting gasses such as chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs). Another environmental factor to consider is the ability to keep local farm land from becoming strip malls or golf courses. If this isn’t enough to convince you, how about hitting you in the pocket book – shipping is what makes your food more expensive.
Foods in season have myriad health benefits for you as well as the environment. Just the natural diversity of eating seasonally keeps your nutrient intake balanced. Seasonal food is picked later, and is therefore riper than food that is shipped weeks before your consumption. That extra growing time makes a big difference nutritionally. Many fruits and vegetables double their vitamin content in those last weeks. Growing length isn’t the only determinate in nutritional value, foods grown in their natural season benefit from nutrients produced via sunshine instead of lamps and heaters. Researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture in Japan found three-fold differences in the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter. There have also been numerous studies showing that seasonal food is tastier; those nutrients pack in flavor.
Food Safety is also a concern. The article Better Safe than Sorry, which appeared in the May 28 issue of US News and World Reports, stated that organic foods are often found to be less contaminated with food borne pathogens than conventional foods. The article maintains that locally grown foods from small farms avoid some microbial contamination risks because their food isn’t mixed with other farms prior to processing. US grown foods are also often grown under stricter standards than other countries.
To buy locally, look for a farm that sells shares of its seasonal harvest, often called a CSA for Consumer Supported Agriculture. Different fruits and vegetables will ripen at different times during the season so a CSA share will differ week to week giving you variety. If you don’t have a CSA in your area, try a farmers market or the organic section at your grocery store. Most organic food sections are seasonal.
Finally, seasonal foods just feel better and naturally have the nutrients we need. Heavier root vegetables ripen in the winter to sustain us in the colder months while light, refreshing higher-water content fruits and vegetables grow in the hot months.
Foods ripening right now: artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, cherries, dandelion greens, fava beans, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, and turnips.
Later in the summer you should see apricots, carrots, corn, okra, peppers, raspberries, summer squash, tomatoes and zucchini 🙂
FYI: www.localharvest.org/csa has a list of available CSA’s in the United States
Here is a look at out carrot haul from last year 🙂