By Lisa Dearden
Are you curious to know what’s in season now at the farmers market? I should hope so! Americans, in particular, are no longer accustomed to eating seasonally like their ancestors. Only a few generations ago (before the miracle of refrigeration), people had to carefully plan their seasonal food consumption based on planting, harvesting, hunting, fishing and preserving or drying their food so that they wouldn’t starve! Any glitch in the weather, or even in the timing of the planting of crops, could mean a serious set-back for a family or community.
The human body is evolved to eat seasonally. Don’t you ever notice how you crave summer salads, but in the winter – a rich, hearty soup is just the ticket? Winter is a time for adding fat reserves to ready for the long, lean times ahead when it is either not practical or possible to hunt, fish or harvest fresh food and meat. Even animals tend to eat their greens in spring and fatten up for the long winter! But we have gotten accustomed to having cantaloupes in February, asparagus in December and tomatoes all year round.
What is eating out of season costing us? Think of the amount of miles your food has had to travel to get from the field to your fork. That February cantaloupe was most likely grown in Florida, or maybe South America, and was picked far before it was ripe…sprayed with some sort of chemical preservative to prevent it from ripening too fast and rotting during transportation, and then conveniently shipped via ship, truck or plane to a supermarket nearby. All this, so you can eat a flavorless cantaloupe that’s not very high in nutrition that has given its life for big oil in the form of both gasoline or diesel and chemical preservatives. Think about a visit to the blueberry patch this year…you and your family could pick a whole lot of berries in just a few hours time. Then, they could be frozen on baking trays, put in plastic freezer bags, and you could pop them out of the freezer in the dead of winter and have a super nutritious treat without even having to leave the house! That cantaloupe is costing you more than you realize…
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has some great tools to help consumers make decisions on what they should be thinking of purchasing locally throughout the various seasons. Their Fruit and Vegetable Availability Chart is perfect for posting on the family fridge. Visit your local farmers market to get a feel for what’s in season and then stock up and preserve the harvest by canning, freezing or using a food dehydrator!
Lisa Dearden, owner and manager of ChiknEGG Productions and My Manakin Market, has been a long-time advocate for local food and sustainable agriculture, and serves on numerous statewide ag-related boards and committees. She and her husband, James, live in Goochland County where they raise alpacas, llamas, dairy goats, chickens and rabbits, as well as vegetables, fruits, berries and herbs.