You may have heard someone get excited about certain produce being in season before. Maybe they were bragging about their strawberries in spring and summer squash in, you guessed it, the summer. But what does it mean for fruits and vegetables to be in season, and why should you care?
If something is in season, that means that the fruit or vegetable is being bought and eaten around the same time it was harvested. If you are eating something soon after it was harvested, you get to enjoy food that tastes fresher and is more nutritious. Think of that granny smith apple you picked off the tree at your local apple orchard last fall. The flavors hit your tongue right away and are more full-bodied than those of apples you get from the grocery store. While you can’t always pick your produce yourself, you are able to shop in season to give your palette the best there is to offer.
There are plenty of helpful resources for learning how to eat in season. Before you can become a seasonal produce master, you’ll need to learn which produce is in season when. The USDA’s educational component, SNAP-Ed, has a great list of which produce are in season when. When a new season is around the corner, you can check out the list to make a conscious note of what you should be adding to your grocery list. During the summer, there are bounties of in-season produce to enjoy. There’s a reason watermelon is such a hit at backyard barbeques- it’s in season!
Now that you know how to figure out what’s in season, you probably want to know if it matters where you buy it. If you want the freshest produce possible, you’ll want to hit up your local farmers markets. This is great for your local economy, since you’re giving back to the community you spend your time in. Plus, buying local is typically cheaper than buying from a chain grocery store. An added benefit is the connection you have the opportunity to form with your local farmers. You can ask your local farmers what practices and techniques they use when making their produce. So, if you want to know what kinds of pesticides might be involved with your produce, you can learn first-hand from the growers themselves. (Note: Yes, even organic farmers use pesticides, and no, that’s not a bad thing!)
So, now you understand how to eat in season. It’s especially easy in the summer and early fall, when it feels like everything you wanted to enjoy happens to be in season. What if you don’t want to wait months on end to have your favorite produce? Well, there are a few solutions for this issue. First, you can freeze produce when you buy it fresh to repurpose later. This is common with basil, as many people will harvest it in their at-home gardens, then blend it into pesto to be used all year long. Another solution is buying from your local grocery store in moderation. You should focus on eating produce that is in season, but it’s okay to indulge in an off-season berry once in a while. The only caveat is that this shouldn’t be the norm for you. Your grocery list should change with the season, just like your wardrobe. If you limit yourself to one piece of produce per season that you can’t go without, that’s a step in the right direction.
At the end of the day, very few people eat exclusively produce that’s in season. Maybe it’s a struggle to make your kids eat any fruit besides apples. Maybe that new recipe you want to try calls for out-of-season berries. These problems are bound to happen, but you’ll be doing yourself, your tastebuds, and your wallet all a favor if you make a conscious effort to buy seasonally.