As the leaves begin to turn and the warmth of summer slowly disappears, the fields and gardens of farmers take note and start to feature new varieties of foods. With a new season comes new food. Buying these local, in season crops does two jobs for us: supporting local farmers and promoting sustainable practices. Chances are your grocery store will continue to offer a rich variety in foods regardless of the season, but because of types of production and transportation, these aren’t always the most healthy or sustainable options.
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Besides, eating food in season means you’ll be enjoying the food in its ripest and freshest form. Not to mention that now is the time to grab those unknown foods seen at the market and try to incorporate them into a meal!
That said, getting together a shopping list is a must. For each category, a West Coast, Middle America, and East Coast suggestion will be given because of the variety of climate and harvest times.
One of the biggest categories affected by the season change will be vegetables.
In the west, you’ll start to see asparagus disappear from the farmers market stands along with gourds, nettles, and green garlic. Luckily, for states like California, many of the traditional crops aren't too adversely affected by the season. As a consumer, still expect to see regulars like assorted herbs, beans, mushrooms, onions, and radish among others. If you’re looking for some in season treats, winter squash, sunchokes and artichokes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and arugula will all be at their freshest in the winter months! Also, chicories – those lettuce like, bitter-ending, crunchy leaves – like radicchio and Belgian endive are supposed to be the best in winter, though they are offered year round.
In Middle America, Lima beans, sweet potatoes, winter squash, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach all are key seasonal players. Try working some of these into your holiday dinners!
For the east, you can look so some similar picks to those above. Cucumbers, field peas, sweet potatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, and onions will all be in season and at the local market. In addition, now is the time of year for sweet corn, and bell peppers.
Local fruits will also be re-shelved every winter season. Depending on how north you live, however, you may be stuck buying fruits imported from another state or country due to the harsh freeze of winter.
For states on the West Coast, apples, cantaloupes, honeydew, tangerines, pomegranates, and strawberries (before the freeze) will be freshest in early to late winter. As always, you can expect to harvest your lemon tree year round!
In the middle states, melon varieties, pears, watermelons, eggplant and pumpkins (both fruits, botanically speaking) will be off and on, with most having their ripeness peak in early to mid fall.
For the East Coast, apples, melons, pears, watermelons, Muscadines and other grapes are key players in the fall and winter season.
Overall, fruits not seen here but traditionally thought of (bananas, kiwi) will have to be bought from a super market unless a local farmer works his or her magic and is able to successfully cultivate a crop. Local kiwis, for example, will most likely be available due to cold storage during this time.
In regards to grains, the note will be general for all three areas. Many grains will simply be replaced with in season varieties of winter wheat or rye. This will largely depend on where you live at and how the season has played out thus far. Ask you local farmer about how their fields are being treated and if you can expect any changes in the product.
Meats and Cheeses
Like grains, meats and cheeses won’t be affected too noticeably. That said, this will be another job for you at your local market. Some farmers will have chosen to specially breed a specific type of animal – turkey, for example – for the holidays, but it will depend on person more than climate. Then again, with some northern states like Idaho or Wyoming, game season opens another world of meats, allowing people to taste deer, buffalo, or elk depending on the area!
Simply ask your butcher what will be coming up, if anything, for the winter season. I have found that many places make specialty dishes, sauces, or sides to accompany traditional holiday meals!
If you’re looking for your specific in season foods, try the EatWellGuide. It provides a ‘click-your-state’ option for finding the best of in season fruits and veggies! Also, now is the time to put your organic garden to work! Check out Organic Soul article on fall and winter gardening to update your home garden and get some decorating ideas!