Having recently moved to North Carolina from Chicago, one of the things that excited me the most about this change in geography was the warmer weather and the resulting year-round growing season. Sure, the Midwest heartland has rich and fertile soil perfect for growing food, but only for a few months out of the year. Then, in the winter, unless you have an indoor greenhouse, you won’t be eating local vegetables or fruit, because it’s hibernation time until at least March.
Here, in the North Carolina winter season, farms like Cottle Organics are growing collards, a few different varieties of kale, green onions, radishes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Some North Carolina farmers, like Turner Family Farms, are still harvesting tomatoes. And then, amid the neon-pink flowering trees that are still miraculously in bloom (albeit, it was an unseasonably warm December), there are pecan trees for the picking which, to this Midwestern girl, seems downright exotic.
Herbie Cottle of Cottle Organics.
My newfound appreciation for the mild climate of the Southeast aside, why does this year-round growing season matter? Can’t you find pretty much any fruit or vegetable in the grocery store at any time of year nowadays? Does kale being in-season right now make it better for me?
Eating seasonally means the crops are picked at their time of natural peak ripeness, which is when they are most nutritious. And, if you’re eating fruit and vegetables that are seasonal in your region, the time between harvesting and arriving on your kitchen counter is less, meaning there is less time for those nutrients to fade. So, when you talk about eating seasonally, the conversation inevitably turns to eating locally as well, and incorporates the local, smallscale farm.
Small farms don’t necessarily try to compete with giant, mass-producing farms that sell produce to national grocery chains. Instead, they sell to smaller retailers, farmer’s markets, restaurants, or directly to consumers through programs like CSA’s. These niche markets support the farmer’s ability to diversify their crops based on the season and try out unique varietals that perhaps are less familiar to large markets, and might be too fragile to travel long distances. So, not only are you getting fresh, tastier, more nutritious vegetables when you buy what’s in season from your local farmer, but you’re also benefiting your body with something more diverse than the usual produce found in a supermarket.
The idea that locally grown, seasonal produce has its health benefits is pretty motivating. But what if we think beyond our bodies? Can eating seasonally improve our overall well-being?
Studies have shown that when we are more connected to nature we are happier. Understanding and appreciating where our food comes from is a great way to feel connected to the earth. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to work in a garden, you know there’s something innately gratifying about pulling a carrot from the soil, or eating a simple salad of greens that were, just an hour ago, growing in the backyard. Buying from your local farmer has a comparable gratification, because you’re showing thanks for the time they took to select seeds, cultivate plants, and harvest crops to feed others. You’re involved more directly with the source of your food. If extreme weather like flooding or drought impedes the success of a particular crop, you eat what does make it to harvest, being more in sync with the cycles of nature.
Another plus about eating seasonally is it is usually more affordable. Simple supply and demand dictates that when there’s a lot of something, the price goes down. If a vegetable is in season in the winter, that means the conditions are favorable for the success of the crop and the yield will be high. That means, the price will be low. Who doesn’t like saving some dollars? It’s always a good thing, and feels even better when the dollars spent are being reinvested into the local economy. This aspect is important to remember when you hear the argument, “Well, isn’t any fruit or vegetable in season somewhere right now?” Sure. But it makes more sense, and reduces your footprint (we can have a conversation about food miles another time), to pay attention to the seasons and eat first from your own backyard (figuratively or literally). You wouldn’t really crave watermelon in January or pumpkin pie in July, would you?