What is Seasonal Eating? (8 Reasons to Eat Produce in Season)

Seasonal eating might sound like a trendy topic, but the practice itself is simple—and the concept has been around since people have been farming. It’s really only in recent years that we’ve fallen away from an age-old practice due to convenience and the global economy.

Sure, thanks to international infrastructure that allows produce to be delivered across borders and hardiness zones, you can buy tomatoes in January. But you already know that store-bought tomatoes won’t be as delicious as that sun-ripened tomato from your July garden, so why bother?

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It’s not easy to break the habit of instant gratification and practice patience instead, but it’s worth the work. Eating seasonally is beneficial in more ways than one–and it’s so natural to most of us that I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re already eating this way. And if you’re not, today’s the day to start.

In this blog post, I’ll make the case for why seasonal eating is important and walk you through exactly how to get started.

What is seasonal eating?

Eating seasonally is the practice of only eating fruits and veggies as they are harvestable in whatever region you live.

Seasonal eating is not a fad diet, but it is an intentional decision to eat some foods and not eat others. Of course, you don’t have to be all in or out–you can aim to make the majority of your food choices seasonal and local–but if you supplement your shopping list with grocery store produce that’s okay, too.

Not sure what to eat? Look around at the fields and farmer’s stands in your town. What are people growing? What is currently being harvested? What locally-grown produce is your favorite grocery store featuring?

In the summer, seasonal eating looks like eating tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini all day long—but in fall and winter, we make the shift to cool-weather storage crops like onions, potatoes, and pumpkins, just perfect for soup season.

Benefits of seasonal eating

Eating seasonally is better for the environment in more ways than one.

1. Fewer greenhouse gas emissions

Possibly the most obvious effect that eating produce out of season has on the environment since certain fruits and vegetables are transported thousands of miles from where they are grown (in tropical climates) to get to your plate.

Local, seasonal food travels far fewer miles than traditional produce, reducing fuel consumption. If enough people took up seasonal eating, we would see an overall reduction in agriculture’s massive carbon footprint.

2. Less plastic packaging

Locally grown produce tends to have less plastic packaging than produce that was shipped from afar. Many local farmers and farmers’ markets use reusable or compostable packaging when possible, so less plastic waste is created in the process.

3. Less food waste

More produce than you think is damaged during the transportation process, resulting in a lot of green waste. Buying seasonally available produce from local farmers results in less waste, and what waste is generated is more likely to end up as compost or animal feed.

4. Fewer chemicals

Seasonally grown produce is usually hardier than produce grown out of season in a different climate. Shop organic farms when you can, but recognize that organic-certified pesticides can still be harmful, and always wash your produce before consuming it.

Even if small farms may not be able to afford the organic label, they are still more likely to use all-natural cultivation methods and fewer chemicals than conventional farms.

5. Supports small farms & local economy

Shopping local farms and farmers’ markets may not be the cheapest option for grocery shopping, but the majority of every dollar you spend on seasonally available produce goes right back to your own community. You have to spend money on food—why not make every dollar count by shopping locally whenever possible?

If you’ve gardened even once you know how much work goes into cultivating our favorite fruits and vegetables. On top of that, produce is one of the most undervalued products in our economy. Keep your local farmers in business by showing them some support at the farmstand.

We’re in an economic crisis—and while you might retreat into penny-pinching mode, the best way to get the economy out of a recession is by keeping money flowing through the local economy.

6. Better tasting produce

At some point this summer, I want you to buy an heirloom tomato from your local farmer’s market and the best-looking tomato you can find at your favorite grocery store. When you get home I want you do to a taste test of the two, side by side. Can you taste the difference?

Locally grown produce will always taste better than shipped produce because it was picked on time and wasn’t transported hundreds or thousands of miles.

Produce that is shipped thousands of miles is typically picked prematurely so that the fruits and veggies don’t become over-ripe on the drive. Underripe produce doesn’t contain nearly as much nutrition as flavor-rich, perfectly ripe produce that was picked from the farm down the road at exactly the right time.

7. More nutritious produce

Seasonally available produce will always be the freshest food available since you know it was harvested the day or a few days prior to its sale. It will always be more nutritious than underripe produce since the fruit was allowed to mature on the plant and picked at peak flavor and nutrition.

Eating only what’s seasonally available in your area might feel restrictive at first, but use it as an opportunity to try something new! Saying no to a tomato sandwich in December might lead you to try something totally new, like grilled parsnips or butternut squash soup,. You might even find a new favorite food and recipe that you would never have tried otherwise.

If you always eat the same things, your body won’t get the nutrition that it needs. Eating seasonally can diversify the diet and support our overall health.

8. A natural lifestyle

Not only is sourcing locally-grown produce easier on your wallet and the planet, but seasonal eating connects our bodies to nature’s natural seasonal cycles.

Do you notice that your body feels a little bit different from spring to summer, or summer to fall? Our bodies respond to the seasons changing in subtle ways. Pay attention next time and see if your cravings don’t change from one season to the next.

It’s much more natural—and better for our health—to eat according to the seasons, to ensure that our bodies get the nutrients they need at different times of the year.

How to find local farmers

One of the best ways to find local farmers is to go to your local farmer’s market!

Not sure where your nearest farmer’s market is? Check out this resource from the USDA, which will pull up the closest farmer’s markets to your zip code.

You might also be able to connect with other farmers through a local co-op or even from referrals from friends.

Once at the farmer’s market, you can build relationships with the growers themselves, and ask questions about how the food was grown. You might decide to sign up for a community-supported agriculture spot and receive regular boxes of seasonal produce.

Knowing what is in season

If you’re not sure what vegetables are in season, no worries–visit this website and select your state from the drop-down menu to see what crops are available in your area at different times of the year. You can filter the results by state, produce, and what month the produce is available. Click on the produce to learn more about that fruit or vegetable, as well as find recipes for how to cook it.

Once you know what’s seasonally available in your area, you can make informed choices when shopping at the grocery store or farmer’s market.

Seasonal eating comes down to making the conscious choice to buy and eat locally grown fruits and vegetables that are in season in your area. It’s a deliberate choice to make, but it’s a better decision than continuing to support conventional agriculture. Not only is seasonal eating the best choice for our own health, but eating with intention will introduce you to a world of fresh, wonderful, and unique produce that your body has always been craving.

As summer winds down into fall, I still encourage you to can as many jars of salsa as you can and relish every crisp cucumber. But before you resolve to eat bland bell peppers all winter, plant these fall seeds to have something more exciting to look forward to this November.

To find books, courses, seeds, gardening supplies, and more, check out The Shop at Greenupside!

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About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.

Sarah C.

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