By Hannah Harms
Nothing can place you in time better than biting into a juicy Honeycrisp apple as the afternoon sun blinks at you through trees of brilliant oranges and reds. Or the sweet stickiness of watermelon running down your chin at a sweltering Fourth of July picnic.
Walking through the produce section at the grocery store today, it is our instinct to grab whatever sits on the shelves without questioning our choices. We have to be careful, though, because much of what we find there is out of place. If we pay attention to the fruits and vegetables that grow during certain times of the year, we can benefit in so many ways. It may take some time to learn when each food is available, but shopping at farmers markets helps tremendously with this. Plus, you support local food producers!
I still remember eating my very first farm-fresh cucumber. I had only ever eaten the waxy-skinned, watery cucumbers from big chain grocery stores at various points in the year. I had no idea that what I thought to be an ever-accessible, unexciting food was actually grown naturally in the summer and had a sweet, smooth flavor that captured its season perfectly. Each tomato, carrot, or broccoli floret that I tried in turn produced this new image of what fresh could and should taste like. The more time that passes between harvest and consumption, the more flavor and personality we lose. Farmers markets provide us with veggies collected within just the past couple of days, while many of our larger stores stock products that have been stored for weeks or traveled thousands of miles before reaching their final destination.
The vibrant flavors that we find in seasonal produce carry with them the nutrients that we need in order to stay healthy, physically and mentally. Our bodies get a wonderful diversity of vitamins and antioxidants throughout the year, which allow us to build up our immune systems. We can avoid getting the cold that is going around, but also be proactive in fighting the cancers that continue to become more common. Colorful foods are known to reduce inflammation, which is a root cause of many physical disorders. (However, let’s not forget about cauliflower, which lacks color but makes up for this by packing quite an anti-inflammatory punch.) Preservatives and other chemicals are necessary in order to keep our food looking fresh when it is out of season. Staying away from such substances can only help in preventing diseases. The natural, pure nutrients then work to provide us with energy, strong muscles, improved digestion, and the beneficial brain chemicals that keep us feeling happy and productive.
Preparing meals will be an easier, less expensive, more vivid experience, and your body will thank you for listening to the seasons.
Hannah has worked at Quincy Farm in Schaghticoke, New York and at The Fulton Farm in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. She is committed to organic vegetables and discovering ways to introduce people to how delicious and exciting they can be.