‘tis the Season

Why eating local will thrill your tastebuds … and your family, too

Green, as we all know, is all the rage, and the trend of shopping at one’s local farmer’s market has seen a big spike in the last few years as more people become aware of – and interested in – where their food comes from.

Some of that trend is a result of what we’ve come to expect from our taste buds. They’ve become conditioned to so much produce out of season (tomatoes in the grocery store in winter, anyone?) that perhaps we’ve forgotten what seasonal produce tastes like. “It tastes completely different,” says Kristina Carrillo-Bucaram, founder of the Rawfully Organic Co-op in Houston. “It has a personality.”

Kate Geagan, a registered dietitian and author of “Go Green, Get Lean” (Rodale, 2009), says that chefs will tell you that local produce trumps organic all the time on flavor. That’s because “they’re the most vibrant the minute they’re picked,” she says and their time from “farm to table” is much shorter than something flown or trucked in, which requires it to be picked much earlier, meaning not only does flavor fade but also nutrients.

Another benefit to seasonal produce is that it lasts much longer because, again, it doesn’t have to be picked so early to get to your refrigerator. That said, Geagan doesn’t think people should lose sleep over not being able to eat seasonal produce all the time as “there are realities you bump up against,” she says. You  may live in an area with a short growing season, for example.  “Every place has a bountiful time of year,” Geagan says. “Capitalize on that and look to more regional networks in the off-season.” But, don’t feel bad, she says for relying on other parts of the country when you have to.

Geagan notes that seasonal produce helps expands your children’s’ palates. In addition, those that participate in growing the food are much more likely to eat it and like it, so if you can manage even a box on the window sill, you might get your kids to enjoy those peppers a whole lot more.

Some may be scared off from eating seasonally because that requires eating some things perhaps you’re unsure of how to prepare or feel you have no use for. Fear not; talk to your farmer. “Put a face to your food,” Geagan says. Ask for recipe suggestions. If getting to a local farmer’s market isn’t an option, perhaps community-supported agriculture is. While buying a share means buying whatever crops are grown at that farm in that season, you can look at being part of a CSA as an adventure, says Geagan.

Ideally, local, organic produce is the way to go. But, as Geagan points out, there are realities to most of us geographically to make that happen so she suggests avoiding highly packaged, highly perishable foods that have been flown in. Also, because USDA certification is expensive, some of the local farmers may be keeping organic practices but unable to afford certification; talk to your farmer to find out. To find farmer’s markets, local farms, CSAs and more, visit LocalHarvest.org.

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