Spring has officially sprung (although it may not feel like it) and farmers' markets are beginning to re-emerge. farmers' markets have been popping up and becoming increasingly popular in both urban and suburban neighborhoods. Towns and cities alike have happily sectioned off streets monthly, or even weekly, for nearby farms to provide residents access to locally grown food. While many look at jaunts to the farmers' market as occasional quaint outings, there are major benefits to regularly frequenting the local markets and to eating seasonally.
Whether or not we realize it, the foods that are grown locally are essentially preparing us for the days ahead. Spring vegetables, like lettuce, kale, asparagus, and spinach, help to clean us out after a long winter. The summer harvest of grains and fruit helps to give us energy for the long days. The produce of autumn, including squash, apples, carrots, and beets, provide warmth and sweetness to help nourish us prior to the long winter. And finally, the winter foods, which generally are stored, like dried fruits, nuts, and other, heavy, dense foods, help to provide resilience.
As soon as a piece of fruit (or any produce) is plucked from the tree, the nutritional breakdown begins. Certain vitamins, particularly vitamin C, are very unstable and though they may be present fresh off the vine, are largely depleted after a few days. Supermarket produce may be shipped from a thousand (or more) miles away. As a result, the produce sits around for many days constantly losing some of the key nutrients.
Since local farms must adjust to the seasonal weather, the fields are also turned over more frequently. Thus, a patch of land that held cucumbers in the summer may hold root vegetables in the fall and winter. This turnover encourages a more nutrient-rich soil, which translates into a more nutrient-dense product (not to mention a tastier product).
Locally grown produce is typically picked the day before arriving at the farmers' market. As a result, the produce is picked ripe or at its peak. Moreover, after a day at the farmers' market, leftover produce is generally not saved to be sold the next day. Instead it is used for jams and baked goods. On the other hand, supermarket produce is harvested well before ripeness so that it can withstand bulk handling and long range shipping. That means that when supermarket produce first hits the shelf, it is at least a week old. In fact, the automatic spraying of the produce section every few minutes is mainly done to perk up the week-old vegetables. It doesn’t help that nutrients of the produce leach out at each spraying.
Many of the small growers at farmers' markets are organic growers, which mean they do not use any synthetic compounds on their fields. Even for those local farmers' who do use some chemicals, however, the amount which they use is far less than large commercial farms. Moreover, because local farms pick their produce at its peak, they do not use any chemical ripening agents. And because they get their produce to market almost immediately, they do not need to coat their produce in wax or add any other preservatives.
Nowadays, when you walk into a supermarket, you may never know the season. Due to global trade, the supermarkets will always have melon, tomatoes, and tropical fruit. Without any new options, we can easily encounter food fatigue. And when we tire of fruits and vegetables, it is too easy to fall into the rut of treating ourselves with high-fat and high-sugar foods to perk up our food repertoires. However, when we eat seasonally, we can look forward to the juicy summer watermelon or the savory autumn artichokes. Plus, by purchasing seasonal foods, and not splurging on that $10 clamshell of blueberries in the dead of winter, you can also save money.
What’s In for Spring
For spring, focus on vegetables like asparagus, dried beans, cabbage, carrots, beet greens, mesclun, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, zucchini and turnip greens. As far as fruit goes the freshest are apples and pears. Incorporating seasonal eating into your lifestyle demands a bit more time, thought, and commitment. As a result, however, you will be rewarded with more robust flavors and loads more nutrients, so your body, your palette, and the Earth will definitely thank you!