Have you ever visited a friend’s or family member’s home and instantly smelled a familiar scent that brought up memories of a particular season? Maybe your grandma just baked a fresh apple pie that filled the house with its warm, spicy goodness; the perfect fall treat after jumping into a pile of leaves. Or maybe you were on your way to knock on your bestie’s front door when you catch a mouthwatering whiff of the meat and vegetables grilling out back that tell you summer has arrived. Of course you have. Even if you don’t know it yet, we all have memories tied to in season produce!
Just like our olfactory senses, our sense of taste is strongly tied to our memories. I always picture humid, sunshine-filled days any time I have zucchini or watermelon. Growing up, my summers were always filled with a variety of zucchini dishes, and watermelon was a staple of the season. When I was a kid, my mom almost always had rhubarb growing in her garden. While she would freeze some of the stalks for later, she always made a sweet treat, like rhubarb pie, after harvesting it. Now, rhubarb deserts make me think of the time we spent baking together with the windows open, the crisp, fresh air of spring drifting in after a long winter. These connections were made because we frequently ate whatever was ripe, or in season, from the garden.
What does buying “in season produce” mean?
Buying in season produce simply means you are purchasing fresh produce that has ripened and is harvested in the same season you bring it home. Depending on where you live in the world, this looks different for different geographic regions. It’s important to be mindful of which produce is in season locally, nationally, and globally. If you garden like my mom, then you are probably an old pro at meal planning with in season produce!
Why is it better to buy fruits & vegetables in season?
I could easily give you a short and sweet answer here, but I would be doing you a great disservice. Researching this topic took me on a wild ride I wasn’t expecting! First, we’ll look at each benefit of buying in season produce for meal plans. Then, I’ll show you how they are all interconnected and flow into reducing food waste. Buckle up! Let’s do this thing!
Benefit #1 – Support Local & Domestic Farmers
Buying produce from the local farmer’s market, U-pick farm, or CSA supports local farmers and the practice of consuming farm-to-table goods. When buying directly from farmers isn’t an option, you can support farmers across the country when you buy produce from a grocery store. Just pay attention to the stickers and bags used for each item of produce to figure out where they were sourced from. An added bonus to buying local or domestic in season produce is the resulting lower carbon footprint. Now, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, so be smart about your purchases. For example: If you live in Southern Texas and you HAVE to have fresh tomatoes for your Super Bowl party, buying them imported from Mexico might be a better option than buying some shipped from California.
Sometimes it can be tough to figure out which is the lesser of two evils; I get it. My indecisive nature is constantly plagued by these choices. Just do your best with what you know, and carry on with your head held high. Being environmentally friendly isn’t always easy, but it’s worth it!
Benefit #2 – Fresher Produce
When you buy in season produce, you provide yourself and your loved ones with fresh fruits and veggies that get eaten closer to when they were harvested. The longer produce sits on a shelf or in a fridge waiting to be eaten, the more nutrients it loses. Eating seasonally means you get more of the vitamins and minerals nature provides in produce.
Benefit #3 – More Flavorful Produce
With fresher produce comes more flavor! When produce is allowed to naturally ripen on the plant or tree, we get to enjoy the full flavor-packed bounty of the season. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a bag of oranges in the summer excited to have a healthy, tasty snack for the week ahead, only to be greatly disappointed by the watery or sour flavor in each orange. Watermelons may not be sour, but they are a more watery tasting fruit when harvested outside of their peak season. In my experience, tomatoes are another big flavor offender when purchased out of season. Not that anyone would ever catch me chowing down on raw tomatoes in any season. Blech!!
Benefit #4 – Cheaper
This is a simple supply and demand scenario. When fruits and vegetables are in season and ripening at their peak, farmers have more produce to sell to grocery stores and directly to consumers. It’s always a great idea to buy in season produce in bulk. This allows you to freeze, can, and pickle fruits and veggies so they can be enjoyed year round. This is a time commitment, so keep your schedule in mind when making bulk purchases. (Help prolong the shelf life of fresh produce with the right kitchen tools.)
Additionally, when you aren’t purchasing food that’s been shipped from overseas or across the country, the prices tend to ease up. And all the bank accounts said, “Amen!” This cheaper price tag is closely intertwined with the next benefit I discovered.
Benefit #5 – No Post Harvest Treatment
Most people have known about the wax coating on fruits and veggies for years. That’s always been one of the main reasons I’ve washed my produce. What I didn’t know (and you may not either) is that the agricultural industry has multiple options for post harvest treatment (PHT) to speed up or slow down the ripening process of produce, and keep produce aesthetically pleasing.
An article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains 11 post harvest treatments with a twelfth on the horizon. PHTs include heat treatments, edible coatings, and gas treatments. While each has its benefits, they also come with some drawbacks. An environmental impact is the most obvious issue since the facilities used are consuming energy (and in some cases, water) for each PHT. Many treatments also require higher amounts of money to perform the necessary PHT. It’s only logical that the higher cost would get passed down the chain to the consumer.
The other big issue with post harvest treatment is the health risk some of these practices impose. Since I am well acquainted with having a food intolerance or two, I was shocked to learn some edible coatings used on produce are soy and whey based. How are consumers with these food allergies and intolerances supposed to know what’s safe? It’s not like the stickers or bags indicate which PHT was used for each type of produce. I hate to think what might happen if a restaurant or school doesn’t properly wash produce to eliminate these coatings!
Benefit #6 – Healthier
The closer to home you’re sourcing your produce, the lower the chances are that your produce has undergone a post harvest treatment. In other words, locally sourced food could be a healthier option for you. Even if you don’t give a flying flip about the practice of PHTs (I know you’re out there, and yes, we can still be friends), going the farm-to-table route is still better for your health. According to one site, buying local, and even domestic, in season produce gives more assurance that things like banned chemicals aren’t being used on crops.
In addition to this, in season produce is more nutrient dense (I briefly touched on this earlier). Oranges are a perfect example of how nature feeds us what we need, when we need it most. It’s so hard to stay above the wellness line during winter, am I right? As luck would have it, winter is the prime time to buy oranges. Vitamin C is the most touted nutrient of oranges, and for good reason.
One cup of orange sections exceeds the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for adult females and nearly meets the RDAs for adult males. The U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements says white blood cells carry one of the higher amounts of Vitamin C in the body. Healthy white blood cells are an integral part of a strong immune system. (Anyone else just have a Magic School Bus flashback!?) Oranges are but one example of how God provides us with natural medicines each season for optimal health and wellness.
Benefit #7 – Reduces Food Waste
Easily my favorite benefit of all, buying in season produce reduces food waste. Heck, yeah! If fresh, naturally ripened fruits and veggies are more flavorful, it’s only natural that people are more inclined to eat them. Remember those watery, summer oranges I mentioned earlier? A large portion of those were thrown away because of the lack-luster flavor. Every time I went looking for a snack, I’d see the oranges, but remember their unappealing taste. Instead, I would grab some grapes or strawberries – both seasonal summer fruits. For this and another reason below, reduced food waste is environmentally friendly.
Benefit #8 – More Environmentally Friendly
This list would be woefully incomplete if it didn’t include the environmental benefits of purchasing in season produce. Some of these benefits were mentioned above:
- The reduced need for transportation minimizes the carbon footprint.
- Avoiding post harvest treatments reduces energy and water consumption.
- The shorter transportation distance in a harvesting season means there is less need for storage and refrigeration. This results in few opportunities for fresh produce to decay and get tossed in the trash before making its way to consumers. In other words, shorter transportation means there’s less food wasted!
- Fresh and flavorful produce also means there’s less food waste! Reduced food waste means fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Why does eating in season produce help the environment?
If you’re a visual learner, like myself, all of that information may have left your brain in a state of cognitive disequilibrium. I couldn’t move forward in writing this post until I drew it all out on paper to help my brain make sense of how it all connects. I sincerely hope this infographic helps you understand the environmental benefits of buying in season fruits and vegetables as much as it did me. If you need further help understanding how reducing food waste is environmentally friendly, check out my Beginners Guide to Reducing Food Waste.
What fruits & vegetables are in season right now?
Figuring out which fresh produce is in season isn’t always as easy as going to your local farmer’s market. Not every farmer’s market runs year-round, and not all farmer’s markets fit well into everyone’s schedules. There will be times when you have to buy groceries from a brick and mortar store. When this happens, it’s nice having a reference guide on-hand for creating an in season meal plan.
Below are two seasonal buying guides for the top 20 fruits and vegetables bought in the U.S. in 2018 (it’s still too early for the 2019 data to be released). This is a general guide; the seasonality of produce in your region may differ slightly. See below for a state-by-state resource and more!
Keep in mind that the farming powerhouse state of California has longer than average growing seasons for certain produce due to its climate. Other major produce supplying states (i.e. Michigan, Texas, and Washington) help fill in the gaps for fresh produce since the growing seasons for their crops don’t match up 100% of the time. This allows Americans more access to domestic in-season produce. Still, pay attention to the packaging, and make the best choice you can! If the produce you want is not in season locally and there isn’t a major domestic supplier for it, you will probably only find imported produce at your local grocery store.
Find In Season Produce!
Maybe you’re traveling around the U.S., adventuring abroad (wanderlust, oh sweet wanderlust), or you just need to start learning about your local seasonal produce. Either way, you’ll find what you need below. Maybe you don’t even live in the U.S., but you want help buying in season produce in your home country. No matter your reason, I’ve rounded up some resources to help you brush up on local and international in season produce! I’ll do my best to update this list as I find new reputable resources for different countries.
Seasonal Food Guide Australia – This site allows you to search for in season produce by region and it has a directory for the farmer’s markets in each region. How handy is that!?
Sobeys – Here you can scroll to the bottom of the page to click the province of your choice.
Welcome to China – This particular resource is most useful for Chinese fruits. You’ll learn the seasonality and translation for each fruit, so this is really more of a quick reference than an in-depth guide. With that being said, this site also has a list of common Chinese vegetables. For now, though, you’ll have to do some research to learn the seasonality and other specifics about each veggie. Can I just say, this was a tough country to find any sort of decent list for. I mean, dang!
Paris College of Art – PCA explains the French culture of eating fresh, seasonal food and what to expect from produce markets. If you scroll a little ways down, you will find produce lists for each season.
A Sausage Has Two– Award-winning freelance food writer and blogger Christie has created her helpful Seasonal Eating Guide that takes you month-by-month to explore local in season produce. Each seasonal food mentioned comes with her personal tips and recipe suggestions. It all looks so yummy!
BBC – This area of BBC’s website has a plethora of seasonal dish ideas! Click the month you want, then either select the food you need recipe ideas for or browse the entire month’s recipe collection for inspiration. Easy peasy!
BBC Good Food – This resource offers a wonderful chart of seasonal fruits, veggies, meats, and seafood! Every item on the chart has a page dedicated to helping you learn
more about how to cook with your food of choice, store it, and way more. You will even find links to recipe ideas!
Seasonal Food Guide – This is a great place to find what’s in season state-by-state and month-by-month! It’s also just fun to see what’s in season around the country. I quickly
found myself creating a game to see if I could figure out which state has the longest growing season for some of my favorite fruits and veggies! Yep, I’m that nerd.
Food for Thought
I was never really great at finding the “pearls” in the books I read for my AP Literature class in high school, so my interpretation of Tolkien’s quote may be a bit rough. However, I think Tolkien was spot on with this idea! We need to quit coveting what we don’t have (and possibly can’t afford), like the newest “it” tech gadget, to be a happier world. Instead, we should come together from all walks of life to celebrate what we already have been given in our current season of life.
This quote also rings true for food. We need to value and celebrate the fresh produce given to us in each season, and not covet what we don’t have (like fresh watermelon in January). Celebrating seasonal food could be as simple as baking an apple pie to share with your neighbors in the fall. If you crave a little more adventure in your celebration, attend a local food festival centered around in season produce, like strawberries, peaches, tomatoes, etc. Just the thought alone, of indulging in lots of yummy treats at a strawberry festival, is putting a smile on my face!
Incorporating in season produce into your weekly meal plans has benefits your whole family can enjoy, too! Beyond the money you’ll save, you will support local and domestic farmers that provide you with more fresh, flavorful, and nutrient-dense produce. Not only that, but you’ll be lowering the amount of food your family eats that has been through some form of post harvest treatment (PHT). Which, on it’s own, lowering exposure to PHT food is better for everyone’s health and the environment. Of course, reducing your family’s food waste is the cherry on top! YAY!!! If you’re unsure of how I came to this conclusion, please take another look at the infographic above. Then, join me in my happy dance!
Which seasonal fruit or veggie brings back fond memories for you? I’d love to read your story in the comments below!
I know this was a longer post and your time is precious. As a thank you for sticking with me, here’s a link to sign up for my upcoming FREE Produce Storage Guide! I can’t wait to share it with you!