Get Green with GECO: Benefits of buying local produce prove extensive
By Athena Mandros, Staff Writer
It is spring. The birds are back, the trees are blooming and no one wants to do homework. All are signs of the approaching summer. It may make some of you wonder why the apples in Servo are a little mushy or why Bullet only has apples and oranges. Despite the globalization of our world, fruits and vegetables can only be grown at certain times of the year. Therefore, certain produce becomes unavailable or of lesser quality in the months when it is out of season.
Traditionally, if a food wasn’t in season people had no way of getting it or eating it. Apple pie was for the fall and strawberry pie for summer. The winter months were difficult for peasants and nobility alike, as storied food supplies began to bad. Historically, the Christian Lenten season before Easter caused people to fast for not only religious reasons, but it also eased the burden of dwindling food supplies after a long winter and before the first harvest.
Today you may wonder why eating what is in season is important. To start, eating foods that are in season is an extension of eating local. Eating food within 150 miles of your location drastically reduces your carbon footprint, which is the amount of energy you consume a year. Secondly, you are more likely to know the source of your food. Knowing the source of your food and building relationships with the grower promote healthy and safe farming practices. It makes it much easier to learn about how food is grown because conscious eating comes from understanding your food. Local food is often less pricey, due to the fact that the food travels a shorter distance and needs less refrigeration. Most importantly, local food often tastes better because the grower takes pride in their food and it had to travel fewer miles to your plate, preserving its freshness.
Buying local is easier than you think. As summer approaches farmer’s markets and roadside stands begin to pop up, often for the main growing season. You can search for these markets on the internet, but word of mouth is often the best means of finding a market or stand. Many growers use very low-tech business methods, preferring to spread their message through customer testimonial. For those of you, who live in the city, contact a co-op or local foods store that may be able to connect with produce grown in the area.
Remember when you buy local, to expect some variation in your produce. For example, locally grown strawberries are often smaller and sometimes a deeper red. Don’t let the size deter you however, often the strawberries are sweeter and juicer. In addition, some fruits and vegetables may have marks on their skin. Usually these marks do not denote disease or problems with the fruit, but happen naturally. Many supermarkets weed out this produce because consumers prefer the typical, unblemished fruit. It is also important to note that the produce you buy may require a more thorough washing because it comes right from the field.
If you are looking for an adventure, try picking your own fruit. Many places allow you to pick your own strawberries, peaches, apples and cherries. Not only is it a fun activity, but often you can often buy your fruit at a cheaper price. Now that you have collected all that fruit, you can make pie, jam, preserves or any variety of bake goods or meals. The more creative you are, the more that the process can become! If you wish to take it a step farther, try volunteering at a local farm—there are often opportunities to trade work for produce. It is also a great learning experience.
To make it easier for you to eat what is in season, included below is a list of produce and their growing season. The list is tailored for Pennsylvania, but for those who live further north, add a couple weeks to the beginning of the growing season. Similarly, for those who live further south, subtract a couple of weeks from the beginning of the growing season, which should start earlier. Here is a partial list provided by the South Central PA Buy Fresh Buy Local program.
Apples: Technically available all year long, but best August through November
Peaches: July through September
Green Beans: July through October
Broccoli: June, July, September-November
Potatoes: August – April
Corn- July- October