In northern Michigan we get through the long, cold winters by looking forward to spring.We appreciate each season because we’ve experienced its absence.To eat seasonally builds this same excitement around the food we eat because locally grown and raised products come and go at different times.
Today, with worldwide distribution, our diets are no longer bound by the seasonal limitations of the place we live. Therefore eating seasonally is a choice. The decision to eat by the season means consuming a diverse diet of local fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. This is not only good for our health, but also supports the local economy, and can help reduce impacts on the environment. Spring marks the beginning of a beautiful lineup of northern Michigan produce. The time to eat seasonally is now.
Fruits & vegetables are the focus of eating in season and key to a healthy diet. Eating seasonally also inspires diversity. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends eating five servings of a variety of fruits & vegetables per day to help prevent cancer. Produce is at peak flavor and nutritional content when picked in season and traveling the shortest distance from farm to table. In most cases the further away produce is grown, the earlier it is picked and the more waxes and preservatives are used to keep it looking fresh. Produce grown here in northern Michigan by local farmers can be picked on Friday and brought to the Farmers Market on Saturday. It’s also much easier to ask local farmers about their growing practices than it is to discern the growing practice, if not certified-organic, of a farm half-way across the country.
The local economy also plays a starring role in the benefits of a seasonal diet because eating seasonally directly supports local farmers. According to the American Independent Business Alliance, on average a local exchange results in about 48 percent of each purchase being reinvested in our community. That compares to less than 14% reinvestment with a chain store transaction. Independent locally owned retailers return more than three times as much money per dollar of sales than their chain competitors. Buying locally grown food from locally owned farms and businesses makes real economic sense.
We live in a world where it’s easy to pretend food comes from the store and not from the farm, a world where produce is available regardless of the season. Spring has arrived in northern Michigan and with it asparagus, rhubarb, wild leeks, morels, and more. In appreciation for the seasons and all they bring let’s be aware of what local produce is available and look forward to the day we can find it close to home.
Hold off on buying strawberries until they’re ripe in June. Wait to buy that zucchini and summer squash until you can taste the difference of those grown in northern Michigan soil.
Just like overwintered parsnips — or summer in northern Michigan — fresh, local produce is worth the wait. When you finally get the first taste, it’ll be that much sweeter.
Tricia Phelps is the Taste the Local Difference® (TLD) Project Coordinator for northwest Michigan. Look for the debut of the 2015 TLD Guide to Local Food featuring more information about What’s in Season, and connecting you to local farms, food producers and more at localdifference.org.