Eating mostly locally-grown food, which usually also means eating seasonally, is a laudable goal, and one that can be challenging for our modern mindset, which usually expects to be able to buy almost any kind of fresh produce every day of the year, regardless of the season.
We’ve become accustomed in the Northern Hemisphere to buying ripe tomatoes in January, when they’re six months out of season for us (even when they taste flat and flavorless), so to switch completely over to a local seasonal diet is out of the question for many. However, we can make an effort to eat as much fresh local produce when it’s available locally, which not only helps us increase our fresh fruit and veggie consumption, but also helps local growers by increasing demand.
Why love local seasonal produce?
First, eating fresh produce when it’s perfectly ripe and has traveled a very short time and distance is a completely different experience than just eating some food because you’re hungry. It’s more flavorful because it’s ripe, it’s less bruised or handled because it’s local, and you can often taste it before you buy it, so you know what you’re getting. It just tastes better.
Second, an increased demand for local food can support a more diverse local economy, with local farms, urban garden plots, CSAs, and backyard market gardens able to not only feed more people, but to also make a sustainable living while doing it.
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Third, most locally grown produce has a much smaller footprint than mass-produced food, thanks to its shorter transport route and potentially fewer fossil fuel inputs. Of course, with modern heating, cooling, and lighting technology, we’re rapidly becoming able to grow anything anywhere with enough power, so the lower carbon footprint claim may not be accurate for all local foods in all locations (you could probably grow local organic bananas in a lighted heated greenhouse in northern Montana, but at what external cost?), and certain economies of scale and pricing for big ag can skew both the input and margin numbers away from favoring some local foods.
Fourth, during peak harvest times, an abundance of fresh produce is usually available, which generally means lower cost, and often quantities of produce labeled ‘seconds’ (slightly blemished fruits or veggies) can be had for a steep discount, which can then be either consumed immediately, or preserved (frozen, canned, dried) for later in the year. And these ripe vegetables and fruits are often not only at the peak of flavor, but the peak of nutrition as well, so buying and ‘putting up’ food seasonally is a frugal old-school way of ensuring a healthy year-round diet.
Fifth, and a little on the woo-woo side, I believe that eating more seasonally and locally can help us gain a stronger connection to the natural world, and to the rhythms of the sun and the soil and the water and the changing seasons, and it also offers a great opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with the people and places that grow our foods.