I’d LOVE to take credit for the foresight required for a frugal real food blogger to write about eating seasonal produce… and making the connection between the two isn’t even that great a leap! But alas, it is purely coincidence. No credit due here. Maybe next time. 😉
All food that comes directly from the ground grows naturally in seasons. Each fruit and vegetable requires a certain temperature, a type of soil and the proper amount of sunlight in order to grow effectively. It’s a God-made cycle that has been in existence since He created the world.
It explains why tomatoes don’t grow in snow and why snow peas do… hence their name. 😉
Modern science and technology allows us to eat foods outside their growing season. We’ve become accustomed to shopping at the grocery store for produce, choosing from the standard variety fare that’s offered year-round.
But there really is a better way to food our families.
Two Reasons to Eat Seasonal Produce
1. Less Money
It’s cheaper to grow, therefore cheaper to buy.
The extra care required to grow tomatoes in hot houses with mounds of snow on the ground in January is passed onto us as consumers. The average price of a tomato in winter hovers around $2.15 per pound where that same crop will cost only $1.63 per pound in July when warm weather causes vines to produce an abundance of the juicy, sweet fruit.
When it’s affordable to grow, you can grow more. A greater quantity means the items costs less.
It the law of supply and demand. When there’s an abundance of something, the cost is low. When supply is limited, the price per item increases. This cost savings is on top of part (a) above, meaning seasonal produce is cheap because it’s inexpensive to grow – it then becomes cheaper because there’s lots of it available.
Seasonal food doesn’t have to travel.
The cost of importing food adds up quickly, regardless if it’s imported from across the state or across the world. Gas going in, CO2 emissions coming out, special packaging and handling… those costs get passed on to us as the consumer. When we buy food that’s in seasonal and close to home, those costs don’t exist!
2. Better Food
Food has the greatest nutritional content at its peak ripeness.
I enjoy celery and carrot dippers with a batch of hummus for lunch, but what’s the point of eating the vegetables if they have very little nutrition?
Seems pointless if you ask me, but that’s what we’re doing when we eat food that was picked two months ago and kept in cold storage until our grocery store received its shipment and stocked its shelves.
Seasonal food doesn’t require chemicals for preservation.
The farmer doesn’t have to add chemicals to preserve the food for transit because it only goes a few miles to the next market. A simple wooden crate in cool storage does the job!
Besides being toxic to our bodies, those added chemicals can also reduce the nutrients that the food does have. This reduction is added to the first point too: food has less nutrition as the picking date passes by, but food has even lesser nutrition when preservation chemicals are sprayed to “maintain freshness.”
Seasonal food tastes better.
There really isn’t much to add here. Strawberries picked off the plant are firm, naturally sweet and delicious. Those that were forced to grow in a semi-temperate climate are dull and even mushy, and neither of those qualities sound appetizing.
Eating seasonally expands the variety.
When we eat what the local farmers brought instead of the standard fare that is shipped in from the equator, we get outside our comfort zone and try new foods. I had no idea white beets were so delicious until I bought some a couple weeks ago at the local market for 60¢/lb – talk about cheap!
Eating a diverse selection of produce means we feed our bodies a diverse multitude of vitamins and minerals. Every vegetable is strong in one particular vitamin: carrots have Vitamin A (beta-carotene), kale has Vitamin K and cauliflower has Vitamin C. Eating more variety simple means eating more nutrients.
Eating seasonally sounds great and all – on paper. But how do we actually do this? What steps, or tasks, can we start to take that will make eating seasonally not attainable, but easy?
How to Eat Seasonal Produce
1. Know what’s in season.
Get out of the house, visit local markets in your and see what they have – local farmers only display what they’re currently harvesting! LocalHarvest.org and EatWild.com are excellent starting points for finding markets in your area.
Don’t just visit one market either. Each one has something different to offer and some may be more suitable to your social preference than others.
There’s a market 3/4 of a mile from my house on Sunday afternoons, but I’ve found that the produce is over-priced and conventionally produced. Instead we visit a market on Fridays before lunch where the produce often costs less than the conventional produce in grocery stores and nearly every farmer there is certified organic. It’s also a bit less crowded so it makes browsing the produce a little easier with two little ones.
2. Meal Plan for the Season.
Cream of asparagus soup, broccoli salad and homemade tacos with a fresh salsa bar are not meals you’d ordinarily plan in January because none of the produce needed for those is in season.
Your meals don’t have to be exact, but have a ball-park idea of what you can pick up at the market and use that as your basis for planning for the week. Then be flexible with what you’ve planned to really stretch your dollar.
Was a farmer trying to sell off the last of his broccoli? Swap that for the asparagus and have cream of broccoli soup instead!
3. Shop the buy price.
The buy price for most produce should be about $1 per pound – this is the same for both markets and stores. Resist the temptation to buy foods that are more expensive just because they’re familiar. Apples are not in season in May, so any farmer who happens to have some will be charging a premium.
Also worth noting is that finicky and specialty items like blueberries will cost more; unpopular items like white beets will cost less. Use this to your advantage and try out those “strange” foods you never would otherwise!
If you really want to track prices, utilize a price book to keep record of the price changes!
4. Shop the rainbow.
More color means more nutrients. With each trip to the market, aim to pick up produce of various colors. A trip in the Spring may be red beets, tangerines, asparagus and mushrooms. Summer may bring avocados, peaches, plums and tomatoes.
5. Bargain, gently.
Farmers are often willing to negotiate a little on price because you’re supporting local. With that said, they’re going against the grain of subsidized crops with big profit margins – bargain gently. If they’re offering red beets at 60¢ each, make an offer of two for $1. If carrots are $2/lb and you picked up just over two pounds, ask them if they’ll accept $2.
Often times the farmer will round down totals anyway because dealing with bills is easier than dishing out change (plus they sell their crop while you enjoy a lower price, AND they build a positive rapport with you, which increases the likelihood of you coming back and in turn you supporting their business again… a win win all around!).
Some farmers offer a CSA where you can get a box of fresh produce every week! Often, you pay up front but the price per box is a better deal than paying for the equivalent each week.
6. Buy enough for ten to fourteen days.
The foods at markets have not been sprayed to “maintain freshness,” so they will need to be eaten sooner rather than later. Choose items that can last a bit longer like apples, oranges, cauliflower and beets. If you choose items that will need to be eaten within that first week, like berries, whole pepper or even grapes, makes sure you have those included in your meal plans.
Another bonus of limiting the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables in the home to only what you will eat is that you are forced to restock again and will continue to eat seasonally!
Keep your produce fresh for longer using this guide to washing and storing.
7. Supplement with local sales.
Ideally your produce should come from local markets, but it’s inevitable that you will need or want something that the market won’t have. There is also some produce that really can be grown year round and so is available in stores.
Check the local sales flyers to pick up produce like bananas, carrots and onions – items that are inexpensive staples in many kitchens but perhaps not available in your area often.
8. Buy extras at the end of the season.
Farmers will advertise when they’re selling the last bit of their crop. When they do, buy a lot, aim to shave a bit off the price and preserve like a maniac at home.
When the “last week” sign appeared a couple months ago at my favorite apple stand, I picked up as many apples as I could fit in my bag and asked if they’d take $1/lb (they were advertised at $1.50/lb). They lowered the price even more, asking $8 for eleven pounds of organic, local fuji apples. I had planned on making a batch of apple sauce and an apple pie, but the kids ate them faster than I was able to preserve!
Preserve the extras!
- Blanch your greens
- Dehydrate fruit, vegetables, and herbs
- Can tomatoes and apple sauce
- Make tomato powder
- Make fruit butter or freezer jam
- Turn fruit into ice pops or freeze for smoothies
- Save vegetables for chicken stock
Most people think eating organic is expensive – not when you eat seasonally! And by using those 8 steps above, it’s really easy to implement.
With Spring in full swing, enjoy the fresh air and get to know your farmers. The markets are an excellent opportunity to try out new foods and to network with those who work the land.