Seasons Change…Your Produce Should Too!

Mar 1, 2017 | Health and Diet | 0 comments

The Dirt:
Fruits and Vegetables should make up at least 50% of our diet. But, do you know what produce to buy and when? How to select fruit that is ripe and veggies that are fresh? Several of our readers have asked D2D to look into this…so, as the seasons are changing, here is what you need to know about buying seasonal crops. 

“What fruits and vegetables should I buy as winter becomes spring?”

This is a great question. As the season changes, our produce options change as well. This also happens to be optimal for your body. Many dietitians recommend that we diversify the nutrients we consume by eating different fruits and vegetables each season. It is recommended that roughly 50% of your plate be comprised of fruits and vegetables— roughly 20% fruits and 30% vegetables.

It is recommended that roughly 50% of your plate be comprised of fruits and vegetables— roughly 20% fruits and 30% vegetables.

Here at Dirt-to-Dinner, we frequently speak to the importance of having a healthy, well-balanced diet— and fruits and veggies are certainly an integral part of achieving this balance!

So, what constitutes as “seasonal fruits and vegetables”?

May is Strawberry month!
Image source: Pixabay

When it comes to fruits and vegetables, we certainly have a lot of options—but in order to maximize the flavor, quality, and freshness of fruits and veggies, you should try to buy what is in season.

Visit: Sustainable Table for a great seasonal produce guide.

With spring just around the corner, it is good to know what produce to start looking out for— think: green veggies. 
By late April, artichokes, asparagus, various mushrooms, spinach, arugula, lettuces, swiss chard, radish, fiddleheads and ramps will be displayed more prominently on the market shelves, and can take a place on your dinner plate!
Even in California, which grows almost everything, fruits and vegetables have seasons. You may be able to buy avocados all year long; but apricots are only available in May, June, and July!
Take notice at what is prominently displayed at your local market and you will quickly understand what is in season. Blueberries are plentiful in the summer months, but at any other time of year they are often imported from Mexico or South America. And if you are buying fruit that is out of season and being imported you are usually spending more for that item. So strategic fruit and vegetable purchases is the smart move!

Have you ever wondered where our produce is coming from if it is not grown locally? Chances are it is being shipped from California or imported from South American countries. Don’t worry, we got you covered there too! Give “Where Do Our Fruits and Vegetables Come From?” a read.

Going Local

 Let’s take your seasonal shopping a step further and “go local” for the just picked flavor and nutrition.

If you are looking to buy crops that are grown locally, you are relying on the farming conditions of your state. Your local farmer’s market is a great indicator of crops grown in season. What is in season at a farmer’s market depends on your local climate, or that farmer’s ability to extend his season with greenhouses or grow tunnels. Remember, produce can vary significantly by state, even between neighboring small states. Climate affects the soil, water, and growth rate. Additionally, when produce is harvested can affects its nutritional value.

Many state agriculture departments produce harvest calendars.

As we mentioned in “Going, Going, Local”, fresh produce can lose the majority of its nutritional value in just three days! Buying ripe produce in season is important in order to maximize the nutritional benefits. If you want to discover what fruits and veggies are in season in your home state and when, we recommend Sustainable Tableor state-by-state listings provided by Field to Plate and Pick Your Own

There are a two different ways to approach your produce purchases:

  • You can determine produce seasonality by its availability in the United States.
  • You can determine what is in season locally.
If you live in Florida, for example, buying apples is best in the fall as they are a fall seasonal crop in the northeast and northwest; but they will not be local to your area as Florida does not produce apples! Conversely, those in the northeast will enjoy the Florida or Texas grapefruit crop in the winter months but will never be a able to grow a grapefruit tree!

Nutrition Through the Seasons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes the importance of varying nutrition, and the USDA seasonal produce guide shows what fruits and veggies are in season in the United States depending on the time of year. So, before identifying what produce is being grown in your state, you can also determine fresh produce based on seasonality on a larger scale. Additionally, the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) provides excellent seasonality charts based on the farming in Northern California. California leads the country when it comes to fruit and vegetable production. Therefore, a large quantity of “seasonal produce” that is featured in your local grocery store will have come from the farms in California.

Ripeness Through the Senses

So, now that we have determined what is available based on the season, how can you tell which produce is the ripest?

While we don’t expect you to harvest all your fruit yourself, here are some helpful tips to use when visiting your local farmers market or produce aisle. It all comes down to the 5 senses. First you want to identify if the fruit as any visible flaws, i.e. bruising, mold, discoloration, etc. Then, you may want to handle the fruit or vegetable to test the firmness.

If fruit is too soft to the touch, it is most likely on it’s way to expiration and will have a poor shelf life. However, take note that most fruits and vegetables are picked before optimal ripeness so you will (more likely than not) have to let it ripen at home. Smell is also an important—if not the most important—thing to test. Aside from any obvious physical issues, if your fruit smells like it should taste, it is ripe. The sweeter and stronger the smell, the riper it is. For vegetables, smell is not going to be as important. Typically, you are looking for firm veggies that are pump and rich in color. For more information on what to look for in specific produce items, visit the Farmer’s Almanac. And, for the most part, you have to trust your farmer. Farmers know when fruit is ripe and ready to be picked.

The Bottom Line:

You can find U.S. grown produce throughout most of the year, but every fruit and vegetable has an optimal growing season which is dependent on its growing region. Your grocery store usually displays seasonal items prominently. If you prefer to buy locally grown produce, then you can rely on your farmers market or use state seasonality guides. Determine the ripeness by using your five senses but be considerate of other shoppers or the farmer who grew the food! And always wash your fruits and vegetables before eating.

Resources:

“Agriculture and Food Supply Impacts.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

Katsman, Hannah. “Tips for Choosing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables.” Cooking Manager. N.p., 11 May 2012. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

“Ripeness Guide: When Is It Time to Harvest?” Almanac.com. The Old Farmer’s Almanac, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

“Seasonality Chart: Fruit and Nuts | CUESA.” CUESA. Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

“Sustainable Table’s Seasonal Food Guide.” Seasonal Food Guide. GRACE Communications Foundation, 2016. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.

Thomson, Julie R. “12 Tricks For Buying The Ripest Summer Produce.” The Huffington Post. HuffingtonPost.com, 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.