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Seasonal Eating In Summer

By Nakita Manavi

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Summer is the peak season for many edible plants. It’s also the season for working on home gardens, shopping at outdoor farmers’ markets, and visiting pick-your-own-produce farms.  This means that it’s currently the best time to enjoy fresh, delicious, and healthy foods from local sources.

 

In areas like the northeast U.S., where growing seasons are short and imported produce is ubiquitous, seasonal and local food can seem mysterious and expensive. This doesn’t have to be true! There are myriad simple ways to green your diet by choosing seasonal and local foods, and this is the season to start.

Seasonal and local foods

Eating seasonally means choosing ingredients that are in-season at their source. Most fruits and vegetables have a peak harvest season, which is when they’re at their most flavorful, plentiful, and inexpensive. This is the period immediately following a crop’s growing season, and it’s often the season we associate with particular produce, such as apples in Fall or watermelons in Summer.

 

Seasonal eating provides numerous health and environmental benefits. Fruits and vegetables harvested at their peak tend to be more nutritious than those picked off-season. This means more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants on your plate. Furthermore, in-season produce requires fewer resources to grow, preserve, and transport, so eating seasonal is a great way to curb your environmental footprint.

 

Although frequently combined, eating seasonally and eating locally are two different things. Local foods are those grown in your area, usually by small farms. Seasonal foods aren’t necessarily locally sourced, but local food tends to be seasonal due to the nature of smaller farms.

 

Local food is fresher because it spends less time in storage and transit, so it’s better for the environment and better for your family. Buying local is also a great way to support small businesses in your community.

How to find seasonal and local foods

Many upscale supermarkets promote seasonal eating and have local and organic offerings. However, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture shares (CSAs) tend to have even better offerings for lower prices.

 

Farmers Marketsare venues that bridge the gap between small farms and consumers. These can be found indoors throughout the year, but often take place outdoors in the summer. Outdoor farmers markets and community markets often have vast amounts of interesting fare, from local crafts, to homemade desserts, to cheap second-hand appliances. Grocery shopping in the summer can easily become a weekend-morning family adventure. Vendors at these markets tend to accept cash only, and often have limited supplies of plastic bags, so it’s a good idea to bring your own. Websites like Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org/), the USDA Farmers Market database (http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/), FarmersMarket.com (http://www.farmersmarket.com/), and individual states’ databases will help you find farmer’s markets your area.

 

There are many stores that call themselves farmers markets but stock imported food. Generally, such markets still have fresher produce than supermarkets, but these markets won’t have local foods. When in doubt, look at produce stickers, or ask store managers whether their stock is local.

 

CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture shares, are like farm “subscriptions”. Individuals purchase shares from small farms and receive produce (and other farm goodies) weekly throughout the farming season. CSA produce is extremely fresh, because there is no middleman between farmer and consumer. CSAs have tremendous benefit for both farmer and consumer, and have existed for more than 25 years. Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org/csa/) has plenty of additional information on CSAs, as well as a robust regional database that can direct you to local farms.

 

Pick-your-own produce farms are farms that allow visitors to harvest their own vegetables. Signs and maps direct visitors to in-season crops, and very little work is required. These are great destinations for low-key fun. Children will enjoy seeing how their food grows, and everyone will enjoy snacking on ultra-fresh fruits and vegetables. If you’d prefer to stay out of the fields, the farms keep recently harvested produce and homemade goodies available for immediate purchase. Prices tend to be higher than average at pick-your-own-produce farms, because they charge extra for the experience and loss due to damaged produce and snacking.

 

Of course, the most interesting way to eat locally and seasonally is to grow your own food! Tomatoes and all types of peppers will grow readily in pots, while vine plants like pumpkins do well outdoors. Easy fruits and vegetables to grow indoors with include radishes, garlic, ginger, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, chili peppers, green beans, and herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, thyme, sage, dill, and oregano. People with more space can grow hardy outdoor plants like pumpkins, squash, cucumber, watermelons, potatoes, carrots, and turnips. Gardening can be extremely enjoyable and rewarding, especially when your plants produce tasty fruits and vegetables!

 

Seasonal, local foods aren’t expensive or inaccessible. Farmers markets, CSAs, pick-your-own produce farms, and home gardens, are excellent means to treat yourself and your family to fresh, nutritious, and delicious fruits and vegetables. This summer, explore the bounty around you and enjoy!

 

 

Resources:

Local Harvest database of farmers markets, CSAs, local farms, and more: www.localharvest.org

USDA Farmers Market database: http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/

FarmersMarket.com: www.farmersmarket.com

PickYourOwn.org: http://www.pickyourown.org/

Gardening article from the Spring Newsletter: http://www.dienviro.org/index1.aspx?BD=22317

Food gardening guide from the National Gardening Association: http://www.garden.org/foodguide/

 

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Nikita Manavi is a college student interested in math, economics, and environmental science.  She is currently an intern at the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at HackensackUMC.  Her dream is to work in environmental economics and pursue her love for photography and oceanography.  She began gardening as a young girl, taught by her mother and grandmother in India.  She happily cares for mmore than 30 different plants at her home today.

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