Some of the most common advice I hear, and it turn give, about eating a healthy diet and minimizing that diet’s impact on the environment is to eat locally and seasonally. I’ve talked about some of those benefits before on the blog, but a quick recap is:
- Eating food grown close to home means it did not have to be shipped far and wide to get to your kitchen. This minimizes the oil consumption related to your diet.
- When your food was grown locally and didn’t have to be shipped, you have access to it shortly after harvest. This ensures maximum freshness and taste, and eliminates the need for preservatives.
- Produce is in its most nutritious state when harvested at peak ripeness. If you can eat local produce, you can buy produce that was picked at peak ripeness. If you eat produce from across the country or across the world, it was probably harvested before peak ripeness in order to sustain the shipping process. This can cause you to miss out on important nutrients.
- Eating foods within your local seasons ensures you are supporting local farmers and keeps more money in the community. When you buy foods directly from the farmer, as opposed to from a grocery store, the middle man is eliminated, and the farmer is more profitable.
And while this may seem obvious, it’s worth repeating that seasons differ around the country and around the world. For example, Florida strawberries peak in March and April. North Carolina strawberries peak in May. In New Zealand and Chile, strawberries peak between November and April.
Some foods aren’t native to your region, and you can always assume they weren’t grown locally. In North Carolina, for example, I know any pineapple, mango, or kiwi I find was not grown close by, so I view those items as treats and don’t make them weekly grocery staples.
And just because it’s warm outside, that doesn’t mean that every type of fruit associated with summer is actually in season. Those blueberries at the grocery store could have come from Maine, the cherries from Washington state, the watermelon from Florida, and the strawberries from South America. Your best bet for staying within seasons, again, is to buy produce from farmers markets instead of grocery stores.
So, for many reasons, it’s good to know what’s in season where you live. That knowledge allows you to support your local farmers and make more nutritious choices. It keeps your diet varied all year long, and it reduces your impact on the environment.
For North Carolinians, I’ve taken this chart from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Web site. While this graphic doesn’t capture every type of produce available, it is a great starting guide. The site also has tons of other useful information.
If you’re not from North Carolina, Eat Well Guide’s interactive seasonal food guide can point you in the right direction. Take a look and let me know if you learn anything new!
What are some of your area’s best locally-grown foods?