by ELIZABETH WEIGAND Owner, Agricultural Connections
Eating with the seasons is more than just a trendy idea. It’s the best way to support local since what’s local is inherently in season (or vice versa?). So much can be gained by paying attention to and caring about what’s in season. It makes food a journey, an event, a celebration and a teacher.
These are some of the things we gain by eating with the seasons:
Inherently more local: You will be eating locally and regionally grown foods from farms near you if produce is mindfully selected each time you shop.
Better nutrients: The sooner plants are enjoyed after harvest, the better nutritive quality they provide to our bodies.
Better flavor: Locally grown, seasonal foods tend to have the best flavor. There are a few reasons for this: 1) Because they are fresher; 2) Because farmers choose varieties with an excellent flavor and texture profile (and juiciness if that pertains). Prerequisites of these characteristics are short harvest to market distance and time (versus varieties that are chosen for long harvest to market transport durability and shelf life); 3) Because the plant is harvested at its peak ripeness.
Best prices: Foods in season typically are high in supply and therefore have lower prices than when bought out of season.
Best for the environment: Shorter travel distance to market versus products grown across continents or oceans means lower carbon footprint.
Best for celebrating the uniqueness in foods.
The best advantage of eating seasonally is that it’s a great way to celebrate food! It’s much easier to get excited about tomatoes in late summer when you only get them in late summer. Think of it this way: if you celebrated your birthday weekly all year-round, would it really be that special each time? Savor the specialness of the tomato, pepper and eggplant in late summer, the apple, pear, potato and winter squash in fall/winter, fresh arugula/spinach/salad mix and radishes in spring, and berries, basil, zucchini and cucumber in the summer. Each food has its time to shine and inspire us with recipes throughout the year. If you’d like to extend your experience with a particular food, consider preserving them while they are in season. To savor that delicious tomato flavor all year round, preserve tomatoes in the fall since you can get the height of flavor and the best price. For example, can whole tomatoes or tomato puree, dehydrate for salads or pizzas or freeze whole tomatoes and use for sauce later. My favorite is my mom’s all purpose “tomato sauce/salsa” that can be used for many applications and recipes throughout the winter including spaghetti, chips and salsa, casseroles, soups and more.
There are a few simple things you can do immediately to help guide seasonal food purchasing. While at the grocery store, use price as an indicator of seasonality; generally fresh foods in season are less expensive during the season than when not. What does a specific food — strawberries for example — cost in June versus in January? Be mindful about imported food that’s in season elsewhere around the globe; it can be inexpensive at the register but it’s also a much higher cost to the environment to ship apples from Chile versus from the Columbia River Gorge. While these externalized costs are not immediately felt in the price paid for food, we as a society eventually pay for them in the compromised benefits we gain from a well-treated earth. Produce managers and produce section staff can also help with questions about what’s in season. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be inquisitive. Look at the information posted in the produce section about different foods. Are the tomatoes from Mexico or the apples from New Zealand?
Use This Seasonal Eating Chart to help guide your year-round seasonal eating choices. Keep a copy of it with you and use it as a guide at the grocery store. Or, shop at a store like Central Oregon Locavore or Agricultural Connections and know that everything you’re browsing is in season. These stores as well as farmers markets and CSAs will remove the question since everything sold is from local farmers so inherently in season. Most of all enjoy, celebrate and be proud of yourself for steps you take to care for your body and our beautiful land.