Eating seasonally means eating vegetables and fruits according to the growing season. Why is this important?
It’s early May in Maine right now, which means that in greenhouses and hoop houses, early season crops are coming up — salad greens, baby arugula and baby kale, for instance. There are also storage crops available like carrots and potatoes. Some seeds have been sowed outside — the ones that are cold-hardy.
It will be a few months before our farmers’ markets teem with produce. But there’s still much to be enjoyed in the meantime. And with the right preparation (hint: now’s the time to start preparing for next winter!) you could eat seasonally all year round.
If you’re curious about seasonal eating, here are five good reasons to give it a try.
#1: Food Tastes Better
When you eat seasonally, buying from local farms ideally, you are getting produce that’s been picked when it’s in its prime. Juicy, red strawberries, firm, sweet blueberries, crisp bell peppers. That freshness — and the flavor that comes with it — can’t be duplicated in produce that’s picked somewhere far off and shipped all over.
Produce that’s shipped has to be picked before it’s completely ripe so that it will withstand the trip. You might have noticed how grocery store strawberries are white on the inside while fresh picked ones are pink or red. The ones that are fresh-picked will have more flavor.
Of course, there are exceptions. Avocados, for instance, won’t ever ripen on the tree. They have to be picked before they are ripe so that they will ripen.
#2: Seasonal Eating Means Less Emissions and Less Preservatives
Buying spinach from local farmers gets me a very fresh leafy green that’s been picked at the height of freshness within a short time of when I buy it — anywhere from a few hours to a day or two. That immediacy is possible because the farm it’s grown on isn’t far from my house.
When you buy something out of season, it’s picked sooner and has to be transported farther — from a warmer climate to a cold one, for instance.
This transportation in refrigerated trucks at stringently-maintained temperature levels requires fuel and causes emissions to be released into the atmosphere. There are no two ways around it — you can’t buy mangos from the west coast without shipping being involved.
Moreover, produce items that are out of season need to be preserved in some way to endure long transportation times from areas where they are in season. A waxy coating is sprayed on produce to keep it looking pretty while also elongating its lifespan. This coating can also include fungicides to prevent fungus from growing on the fruit.
But that’s not something I really want to eat.
For some produce, like apples, the preservation method means that when kept refrigerated they can upwards of a year before they hit supermarket shelves.
#3. Eating Seasonally Supports Local Farmers
Here’s an interesting phenomenon: The more money you spend locally with locally owned businesses, the more money stays in your community and the better it gets. According to a fact sheet from the Maine Center for Economic Policy, for every $100 spent with a local business in Maine, an additional $58 is contributed to the local economy. With a chain store, only an additional $33 per $100 is contributed to the local economy.
So buying food from local farmers both helps them stay in business and helps the local economy too. Moreover, it helps send a message that fresh, local, sustainable food is what you want.
You are, in a sense, voting with your dollars.
Pro Tip: There are many ways to buy from local farmers including from locally owned grocers, from farmers at their farm and at farmers markets. But farmers markets do make it easy, letting you shop for a variety of products from a variety of vendors all at once.
#4. Eating Seasonally Might Reduce Your Grocery Bill
Did you ever notice that asparagus drops in price in the springtime? Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries do too — in the spring at the grocery store but in the summer too. And tomato seconds are a steal in late summer.
When produce is in season, you can often get it for less than when it’s not. And that includes at the farmers market. A cucumber in early July, for instance, when they are just beginning to ripen will cost more than in late August when there are so many cucumbers to sell.
This is good news for the consumer because you can spend less for freshness. But, importantly, you can also use it to your advantage. Stock up on peppers, for instance. Then roast red peppers at home and freeze extras for later. You can also parboil corn and freeze it. And string beans are the easiest of all — just rinse clean, trim and freeze.
#5. Eating Seasonally Adds Variety To Your Diet
One of the perks of eating seasonally is the addition of new foods to your diet which in turn may encourage you to try out new recipes calling for these types of foods. Overall, it also helps to achieve a more balanced diet as well.
For instance, in the spring you might find the herb lovage available. It tastes like celery without the texture or stringiness. You might also find rhubarb, which isn’t available much at any of time of the year.
In the summer and fall, experiment with the array of squashes, tomatoes, eggplants and greens available that you won’t find at other times. Mustard greens make a lovely salad. Carrot greens can be transformed into carrot top chimichurri sauce. Roasting delicata squash with a few ingredients makes a sweet, tasty side dish. And green zebra tomatoes are delightful sliced and drizzled with a little good olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper.
Oh, yes, the variety of foods you will discover while eating seasonally from local farmers is fantastic. And you won’t regret it.
But it’s important to acknowledge that while eating seasonally has benefits for flavor, freshness and local sustainability, it isn’t necessarily a panacea for environmental benefits. That’s not to say it’s not, but as a 2010 study by a UK university found, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to draw that conclusion.
In any case, shopping from farmers and buying what’s in season guarantees that we’re eating the best tasting veggies, picked at the height of freshness. Those are good reasons to say yes to them. So is the sustainability factor.