The arrival of the warm spring weather is a great reminder to eat with the seasons. There is nothing better than biting into a ripe warm sweet strawberry straight from the garden of a farmer who you know by name. Or watching the veggies you have planted start to flourish in your garden.
Right now I am tending to my snow peas and sugar snap peas while watching my lettuce take off and my beets and carrots are badly in need of some thinning.
One of the most important reasons to eat local and seasonal is the health benefits. Seasonal foods are picked at the peak of freshness and offer a high nutritional content. They are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes and antioxidants that are important for optimal health.
Foods that are not local are harvested early to help the food endure long distance shipping. They don’t have the full complement of nutrients they might have had if allowed to ripen naturally. Studies have shown that produce loses nutrients each day after it has been harvested and after three days it has lost 40 percent of its nutritional value.
In addition, produce is often genetically engineered to facilitate packaging for these long trips. Transporting fruit and veggies can also expose them to irradiation to kill germs or preservatives like wax to protect the food during the trip while it is under refrigeration.
Eating seasonally helps to support our bodies cleansing and healing abilities. During the spring, vegetables like dandelion greens, spring onions and garlic greens are great for detoxing your body after a long winter.
Eating local and in season is better for your wallet, too. It’s simple supply and demand. For example, think about the basil that is available to us during the winter months. We can spend as much as $4 or more on a puny container of limp and sometimes moldy basil from south America in January. Compare that to the fresh, vibrant, aromatic and over the top bunch you can get from a local farm stand or farmer’s market in the summer that costs $1 to $2 at most.
Not to mention, the financial support you provide to the farmer. With fewer than 1 million Americans listing farming as their primary occupation, farmers are a vanishing breed. When you buy directly from a farmer you are re-establishing a time honored connection between the grower and the eater.
Finally, local and seasonal food just hands down tastes better. Generally, what affects nutrients also affects flavor. Food that travels a long way loses its essence every step of the way. And when it is picked early before it is ripe, the food never gets a chance to develop its full flavor potential. Just compare those flavorless pulpy tomatoes that are available in the grocery store throughout the late fall, winter and spring, to that warm fully ripe delicious tomato from your garden or the farmers market—there is a big difference. Food grown in your local community is usually picked within the last day or two. It’s crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor.
So as you think about how to shift consistently to local and seasonal foods, here is a list of foods that are available in southern New Hampshire in the spring. It makes my mouth water for a great asparagus soup or fiddleheads sautéed in garlic and olive oil accompanied by a mizuna salad with mushrooms, chives and radishes.
And, of course, Greens:
I already have some surprise arugula that I planted last fall pushing up through the soil and hope to have some beet greens in a couple of weeks. That’s only if I get to it first before Peter Cottontail! It’s a battle every year.