Why Shop Locally and Eat Seasonally?
Most of us in North America have access to large supermarkets where we buy our food. These stores are brimming with items for us. We like our fresh veggies and produce any time of the year. We enjoy apples in late winter, pumpkins in the spring, and fresh greens all year round. But do you know where this food comes from? Many items are sourced from thousands of miles away – even from other continents – to satiate our demands. Would food that came from our local area be better for our health, our local community and for our planet?
During the summer in my community, there are several local farmer’s markets which sell lovely fresh products. In fact, also in summer, some of my local supermarkets even feature selections of locally grown fruit, vegetables, and herbs. These offerings are perhaps not as ‘perfect’ in shape and size as their “conventional” counterparts, yet these local produce items are very enticing as they are much deeper in color and more intense in their aromas.
There is quite a bit of evidence to support that fresher, locally grown and distributed foods do have higher nutritional value. It makes sense that plant which spends more time in nature receiving sun and nutrients for a longer time will ripen and develop more fully, and will develop more antioxidants as compared to one that is grown under less ideal conditions and/or is picked too early (in order to allow for many weeks of travel as it is sent to a remote distribution center). In fact, Japanese researchers found that there was about three times the Vitamin C in spinach harvested in mid summer when it is grown under ideal conditions versus spinach grown during the winter.
You will often find that chefs and better restaurants focus on seasonal and local ingredients whenever possible. They know that local, seasonal produce is fresher and tastier. Meals created from local produce are ideal to impress diners and to showcase their menus.
There are other reasons that local season eating makes sense. When we buy local, this increases the demand for local produce. In turn, supporting local farming translates to less transportation, reduced refrigeration, fewer hot houses, and little to no irradiation of the farm products in an effort to extend the shelf lives. This is good for the economy, the quality of the produce, and the environment.
Downside of Out-of-Season Eating
When food is grown out of its season or outside of natural conditions, pesticides, waxes, chemicals, and other types of preservatives are used to facilitate production and to make the produce look appealing to us. Seasonal produce that is locally distributed does not need these potentially harmful agents. One excellent example is tomatoes. Fresh and local summer tomatoes are sweet, juicy, and brimming with flavor. Tomatoes that travel thousands of miles to the supermarkets of another hemisphere out of season are often bland and fibrous or “mealy” – and very disappointing in any dish. Furthermore, local produce production bypasses the needs for genetic modification and the use of fungicides, pesticides, etc.
Most of the local produce will come from less than 3 hours away. When our food has a shorter distance to travel to reach the consumer, there is significantly less fuel used for distribution and thus carbon emissions are dramatically reduced.
Local economies thrive with local demand. With farmer’s markets and other avenues of local distribution, local businesses remain a vibrant part of the community. And as an added bonus, without middlemen and extensive distribution networks, the cost of the products is kept low. This is a win-win for consumers (who save money) and their local areas (for business health). Shopping the farmer’s market allows you to meet and chat with the people growing your food. This completes the “farm to plate chain” within your community.
How to Discover What is Local to You
Are you confused about what the local produce are in your area? Thankfully, there are many online resources to help you learn what the local foods are in your area. When you visit one of these sites, you will enter where you live and you will get a list of what the local and season produce in your area. For a search for someone who lives in the Northeastern part of the United States, the list displayed for early August is extensive! It is easy to get excited about creating meals with this bounty of locally available food. Results include many fruits (apples, berries, melons, peaches, pears, and nectarines) as well as a bounty of vegetables (beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, celery, chard, corn, lettuces, peas, potatoes, and zucchini, etc.) as well as fresh, crisp herbs.
Another search of the locally available produce items in the same Northeast area in late February resulted in only one result (just mushrooms). Clearly, it is not possible to limit your diet to only mushrooms at this time of the year. In contrast, a search of the local produce in Florida in late February resulted in an extensive list of vegetables, herbs, and some fruit. Denizens of the Sunshine state have it made with regard to eating locally, even in the peak of the North American winter. Clearly, it is not practical for all of us to strictly eat locally.
It is important to be savvy about your eating. Don’t stop eating leafy greens such as arugula or kale because they are out of season. It is likely you will be able to find them and they will be a healthy addition to your diet. And please don’t overlook frozen veggies and fruits. Produce is that was grown in summer, and picked and frozen at its peak, has high vitamin and mineral content and is a great source of healthy winter food.
Community Supports Agriculture (CSA)
Another popular offering in many communities is community supported agriculture shares (CSAs), also known as “farm shares”. In advance of the season, you can sign up ongoing deliveries of fresh produce throughout the growing season. This allows the growers to plan their crops and sustain their businesses. And consumers get treated to a wonderful variety of fresh food for many months of the year. They will be able to be exposed to a much wider variety of food items from their CSAs that they would normally get on their own. Information about your local CSA or fresh farm-share produce delivery services can be found online.
There are thousands of years of evidence to show that eating seasonally supports the nutritional needs of the body. Fall apples help us to transition from the heat of summer into the cool of winter. Conversely, the abundance of leafy green in spring support the cleansing of our bodies after a winter of heavier foods, getting us ready for the lightness of summer fruit. These cycles are very important in the body’s natural healing rhythms and for optimal health.
Some foods we love will never be seasonal and local in our area. But having a little appreciation for foods that are grown and harvested near you can keep all of us (and the planet) healthier in the long run.
Do you or will you eat according to the seasons? Please let us know below!