The local food movement, which is, quite technically, the original food movement, is about eating the fruits and vegetables available and local during that time of the year.
Munching on a juicy piece of red watermelon on a hot summer’s day, or a crunchy apple during the autumn are examples of seasonal eating. Becoming a patron of your local farmers market or joining a community supported agriculture is an easy way to reap what grows in your area with the seasons.
Not only does eating seasonal produce deliver more nutritional benefits and less of an environmental impact, it tastes one thousand times better. Heirloom tomatoes in December and butternut squash in July? No thank you.
Why is Seasonal Eating Important?
We have access to a bounty of exotic and eye-catching produce at the grocery store year round. Although it is wonderful to have access to whatever, whenever - it comes at a cost.
Food transportation, greenhouse gas emissions, pesticides and herbicides, and declining nutritional value of fruits and vegetables are skyrocketing thanks to our overabundant food culture.
Grocery store shelfs are stocked with bananas, berries, apples (and so much more) year round, despite the enormous cost and distance of their transportation. The Natural Resource Defense Council notes in a 2007 paper, “Food Miles,” that “between 1968 and 1998, world food production increased by 84 percent and the population by 91 percent, but food trade increased 184 percent.”
Now it is estimated, according to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA), “that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate.”
Food Travel and Environmental Impact
Food traveling such long distances contributes to the production of large quantities of fossil fuels. “It is estimated that we currently put almost ten kilocalories of fossil fuel energy into our food system for every one kilocalorie of energy we get as food,” according to CUESA.
Along with increased fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming, food production and transportation produces carbon dioxide emissions. Some transportation methods are more polluting than others.
Airfreight transportation, for example, generates 50 times more carbon dioxide than sea shipping, according to CUESA. Unfortunately, “sea shipping is slow, and in our increasing demand for fresh food, food is increasingly being shipped by faster - and more polluting - means.”
In order for food to not spoil over such long distances, it is often picked unripe and gassed with ethylene in order to ripen by the time it reaches your store. CUESA notes that produce is also “highly processed in factories using preservatives, irradiation, and other means to keep it stable for transport and sale.”
From the Organic Authority Files
Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore’s Dilemma," explains that after a few days riding cross-country in a truck, "the nutritional quality of any kind of produce will deteriorate, so ideally you want to look for food that is both organic and local.”
Cheaper and More Delicious: Seasonal and Local Food
Finally, seasonal eating is cheaper. Ellen Lomonico of The Ecology Center notes “Strawberries imported from Mexico in December traveled over 1,500 miles to your nearest grocery store and cost $2.22/lb. And they taste hard and mealy.”
“Contrast this scenario to summer strawberries purchased at a local farmer’s market for only $0.74/lb.” Plus, supporting your local farmer and sending money back into your community ensures a supportive and healthy local food system.
The choice is clear: shop and eat seasonally.
What is in Season When?
The easiest way to eat seasonal is to head to your local farmers market or farm. There, meet the people who grow your food and ask plenty of seasonally minded questions. Confused about what a kohlrabi is and exactly how to cook it? Ask the farmer!
According to the USDA’s Produce Guide, there are a variety of unique and delicious fruits and vegetables available year round, depending on your region of the United States.
Spring: apricots, asparagus, avocado, banana, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, collard greens, garlic, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, pineapples, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, strawberries, Swiss chard, and turnips.
Summer: apples, apricots, avocado, banana, beets, bell pepper, blackberries, blueberries, carrots, cantaloupes, celery, cherries, collard greens, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, green beans, honeydew melon, kiwifruit, mango, nectarines, okra, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries, summer squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, watermelon, and zucchini.
Fall: apples, bananas, beets, bell pepper, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, cranberries, garlic, ginger, grapes, green beans, kale, lettuce, mango, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, peas, pears, pineapple, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, raspberries, rutabaga, spinach, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, turnips, and winter squash.
Winter: apples, avocado, bananas, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, grapefruit, kale, leeks, lemons, oranges, onions, parsnips, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, turnip, and winter squash.
When a fruit or vegetable is not in season, but an immense blueberry craving strikes in winter, for example, go for the organic frozen form. Picked at the height of its ripeness, produce is quickly flash frozen to retain nutrition and taste. Stock up on frozen single-ingredient varieties (frozen strawberries should have one ingredient: strawberries) of your favorite fruit and vegetables when they are no longer seasonally available.
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