Seasonal Eating

What is Grown in Indiana? The climate and land available in Indiana allow us to produce most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables. Indiana growers produce summer squash, winter squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, okra, cabbage, salad greens, corn, potatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, berries, apples, stone fruits like cherries and peaches… the list goes on and on.

However, there’s a catch to the accessibility of this great bounty. Plants have various temperature and light requirements for growth. Thus, each plant must be grown during their preferred season for optimal production. Tomatoes love hot summer days. Cabbage fancies the cool air of spring and fall. Living in a region with four distinct seasons, we can enjoy watching the ebb and flow as different types of produce flood the markets and then diminish.

What is in Season?  The Purdue Extension FoodLink chart shows when many Indiana grown foods are in season. While this chart lists many fruits and vegetables, don’t think that the absence of a food means we don’t grow it!

Mushrooms can be grown year round, but are especially prevalent in the fall. Seasonal, local garlic is available in the fall, and garlic scapes (the tasty stalk and flower bud) are available in the spring. Arugula and other “fancy greens” follow the same seasonal pattern as lettuce.

The persimmon tree grows readily in Indiana, and produces fruit in late summer to early fall. In fact, Mitchell, Indiana has hosted the Annual Persimmon Festival for over 70 years.

If you are looking to satisfy your tropical fruit craving locally, pawpaws are a native fruit that taste like a cross between a mango and banana. They are available at some farmers’ markets in late summer to early fall.

For some produce we have become accustomed to eating, seasonality is not so relevant. Nuts and dry edible beans are usually grown in the western United States and have naturally long shelf life, so season doesn’t necessarily effect price or supply. Grown outside the U.S., bananas, coconuts, and limes are equatorial fruit that bloom and produce fruit year round.

Why Eat Seasonally?  Buying seasonal produce at your local farmers’ market is an excellent opportunity to get your family outside walking, but the health benefits don’t end there. Eating with the seasons encourages consumption of a greater variety of foods. Different fruits and vegetables contain varying amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other important nutrients.  Not to mention that the foods you will be eating are fresher and often harvested at peak nutrition and ripeness. This also leads to better flavor, whereas produce grown elsewhere during our off-season is picked days to weeks prior to consumption and ripens on the shelf or is force-ripened by ethylene gas. Produce that ripens off the vine tends to be less flavorful than fresh, vine-ripened counterparts. Finally, benefit from the cost savings of shopping with the seasons. When fruits and vegetables come into season in the U.S., the supply is bountiful and doesn’t have to travel so far to reach us, resulting in lower prices at the market. If you would like to enjoy all these benefits year round, you might benefit from preserving your own foods!

Seasonal produce purchases often support local farmers!  The right recipes can provide additional inspiration for seasonal meals. You can find many seasonal recipe sources online, like the simpleseasonal.com food blog. If print books are more your style, check your local library for seasonal recipe books! Simply in Season is an excellent cookbook filled with family recipes organized by the season of the ingredients.

 Why Eat Local?

  • It’s Seasonal! – Eating locally is eating seasonally!
  • Flavorful Food – Local farmers often grow tastier varieties of produce, picked at or near the peak of ripeness. The varieties of produce shipped in from elsewhere are bred for shelf life and superficial appearance rather than flavor, and often picked long before natural ripening.
  • Nutritious Food – Local producers offer fresher foods with more nutrients. Enzymes in fruits and vegetables begin breaking down nutrients soon after being picked. Eat your foods as fresh as possible to obtain the most nutrition. Locally grown produce also comes in more varieties. For example, you might find orange, yellow, pink, or even purple tomatoes at your local farmers’ market, whereas imported tomatoes generally only come in the standard red. Many of the pigments behind the myriad colors have been shown to improve health. This is why experts recommend eating a colorful diet1. Further, the health of the soil impacts the healthfulness of the produce. Well-managed soils contain many minerals for the plants to absorb, and minerals are important for health. Unfortunately, many large-scale producers only add the minerals that directly affect production yield; when you buy local you can buy from producers you trust to take care of their soils2.
  • Traceable Food – When you purchase from local producers, you know exactly where your food came from. You can ask your farmer about his/her farming practices, and maybe even go see the farm for yourself. When our country is hit by massive food recalls (such as the bagged salad, peanut butter, and tomato recalls of recent years), a lot of food goes to waste due to the large aggregation at major distributors and fear from the public. Local food has experienced fewer opportunities for contamination, and knowing where your food came from can offer peace of mind.
  • Community Building – Be part of a more vibrant community by engaging with local farmers, business owners, and other community members.
  • Support the Local Economy – Shopping local keeps more money in your community. A study conducted in Western Michigan found that 68% of money spent at local businesses stays in the community, versus only 43% of money spent at non-local businesses (see image above). Local businesses are more likely to utilize locally based services, buy supplies from local producers, and make charitable investments in the community.
  • Educate Children – Take your children with you when purchasing food. They will enjoy seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling the different varieties of produce. Teach them the value of purchasing locally and seasonally. Doing so will prepare your child to make informed food choices to maintain the health of their community and themselves long-term.

What is in season elsewhere?  Compared to the vast quantity of foods that can be grown locally, the list of fresh produce that we must purchase from outside our region is relatively short. While many of these products are often imported from other countries, it is a good idea to purchase those grown in the U.S.A.

Oranges, Lemons, Grapefruit, Avocado (FL, CA, TX) Year-round

Kiwi (CA) Spring and Fall

Mango, Pineapple (HI) Spring and Summer

Pomegranate (CA) Fall

Artichoke (CA) Spring

Papaya (FL) Spring and Summer


Learn more about the Economic Impact of Local food and businesses

Keep up with the rapidly expanding research into the economic impact of local food systems using the USDA Economic Impact Toolkit and Case Studies on the variety of local food system initiatives and their economic impact on communities, regions and states.

Read about one Maine study on local and non-locally owned business expenditures

Works Cited

  1. Taste a Rainbow…of Fruits & Veggies
  2. Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious?
  3. Local Works! Examining the Impact of Local Business on the West Michigan Economy

Resources

Learn more about the fresh fruits and vegetables we grow in Indiana, when to find them at your market or grocery and how to choose the freshest, store it at home, prepare for your family and preserve! It’s all in the Purdue Extension FoodLink Database!

Purdue Extension, 615 West State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907, (765) 494-8491

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