No matter where we live, we expect to find a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables year-round in supermarket produce sections. But much of it has to travel great distances to get there. And in doing so, it loses freshness, taste and nutrients. Nothing beats eating fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness—when they taste their best and are still fully packed with health-promoting nutrition.
If you live in a colder climate, though, it is a challenge to find fresh produce year round, but all is not lost. By knowing what fruits and vegetables are in season at any given time in your region, you can maximize your enjoyment as you eat your way around the calendar, savoring fruits and vegetables right when they’re at their tastiest and most nutritious.
You can discover what’s in season anywhere in the country at any time of year by visiting Epicurious.com and clicking on its interactive Seasonal Ingredient Map For instance, select March and click on Missouri: asparagus and spinach. Or click on March and Georgia: cabbage, carrots, collard greens, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, radishes, spinach and turnips.Sustainabletable.org offers a similar tool for finding seasonal produce around the U.S.
Produce that travels hundreds or thousands of miles does not provide the just-picked flavor and nutrition of produce grown close to home. To make the long trip, produce has to be picked before it is had a chance to ripen. And since nutritional value comes by way of the stem of a living plant, fruits and vegetables harvested before their time do not gain the maximum nutritional value of fresh, locally grown produce. Nutritional value decreases even further every day after harvest.
Look for locally grown produce at farmers’ markets. Some supermarkets also promote regionally grown food when available. When shopping at a supermarket, look for seasonal fruits and vegetables that have been shipped the shortest distance. For example, if you live in the East or Midwest, opt for fruits from the Gulf Coast. Or if you live in the West, choose produce grown in Southern California or Arizona.
In addition to providing nutritional advantages, buying fresh, locally grown produce in-season helps eliminate environmental damage caused by transporting food across country – and food dollars go directly to local farmers, promoting your local economy.
A growing share of produce is being grown hydroponically—without soil—in greenhouses, breaking free of the limitations of climate and making fresh produce available year-round, even in the coldest regions of the country.
You can also extend the availability of fresh produce through canning and preserving. County extension offices and Web sites like Allrecipes.com offer valuable information and guidance on canning and preserving.