University District will soon be home to a grocery store of its own, and our excitement surrounding it has us closely considering the importance of the food we choose and those who grow it.
Calgary and the surrounding area has a number of farms at its fingertips, so it seems like common sense that we should be buying from our community members. Despite all that’s grown around where we are, how often do we make a conscious efforts to eat produce that's in-season or locally harvested?
It’s no secret that eating fresh is best — chefs and health experts encourage people to eat seasonally and locally grown, and to make a conscious effort to include ingredients in our diet that have been picked during the growing season.
The idea of eating seasonally is an old one—apart from pickling and fermenting food, it used to be essentially the only way of eating before refrigeration, canning and shipping containers. At first look, it might seem simple, but there’s more to it than what meets the eye.
This is more than just a food-based trend. Understanding what you eat and buy will help your health, your wallet, your community and ultimately, the planet—here’s how.
Eat better for less
One of key benefits of eating seasonally is that everything tastes better. Since the in-season food is grown and harvested closer to its end destination, the fruit or vegetable can be picked at the peak of its ripeness since the likelihood of it spoiling on the trip is greatly reduced. Beyond a more attractive fruit or vegetable, this means you’re getting fruits and vegetables that haven’t had time to lose their flavor or nutrients by sitting in transit for a cross-ocean voyage.
For food that is out of season, the opposite is often true; these fruits and vegetables are sent on long journeys around the world and to maintain freshness on the voyage, are typically picked before maturity. As a result of the distribution and effort to keep fruits and vegetables edible on arrival, the cost climbs for the eventual buyer and consumer of the food.
The biggest tangible benefit of eating seasonally is that you'll save money on groceries. When we buy what is in season, we buy food that is in high supply and costs less for farmers to harvest and ship to the grocery store. This reduces the number of hands involved, which ultimately drops the amount that needs to be paid per fruit and vegetable. While this might not seem surprising, it is one of the few things we forget when grocery shopping.
Buying locally can further enhance the quality of your groceries and benefit the community. It offers the opportunity to get to know the environment where food is grown, and to support nearby businesses and neighbours. Shopping at a farmer’s market is a great way of getting to know who your local farmers are and Alberta has many businesses who provide outstanding home-grown produce, dairy, meat and beyond. The Alberta Farm Fresh Producer’s Association is an excellent resource for more information on what local farmers are selling. As a bonus, it’s also home to an impressive listing of seasonally-based recipes. Many of the local farms and businesses also offer organic or sustainable options.
Can't make it to the farmer's market? Your local grocery store is often a great source of wisdom on what's seasonal as well as locally grown—it all starts with asking questions (and putting in requests for what you'd like to see on the shelves).
Get season-based variety
Another benefit of eating seasonally is the variety of foods in your diet. Reaching for in-season foods you might normally consider will expose you to new dishes and ingredients, and offers new food alternatives that will promote a more well-rounded diet. Most of us already do this to a certain degree – summertime typically lends itself to a focus on berries and stone-fruit like peaches and plums, and fall shifts our attentions to pumpkin, squash and apples. The movement for certain foods over the changing seasons is culturally ingrained (what says fall better than a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie and apple cider?) but keep in mind that the produce is in-season, plentiful, less expensive, and ultimately, more delicious.
What’s in season in YYC?
If you’re unsure of what is in season during the year in Calgary, here are some tips and tricks. For one, the grocery store is a great indicator of what’s in and out of season—prices will typically keep up with the trends. You’ll notice that berries and stone-fruit (peaches, plums, apricots) get more expensive in the fall (and generally don’t look nearly as good as they did in July or August), and this is because they are out of season. Also, if there's an abundance of something specific and they're on sale (like potatoes or squash in fall, for example,) that's another good indicator of an in-season food.
While grocery store prices are helpful, this isn’t a perfect science. For a better understanding of what’s in and out of season in Calgary, The Calgary Farmer’s Market has posted a handy seasonal buyer’s guide that can be found here and is listed below.
Beans, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, cucumber, eggplant, onions, potatoes, pumpkins, rhubarb, rutabagas, summer squash, turnips, winter squash, zucchini, apples, cranberries.
Beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, winter squash,
Beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, asparagus
Asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, radishes, rhubarb, strawberries, beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cherries, corn, cucumber, eggplant, onions, potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, apples, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, saskatoon berries, tomatoes, pears, pumpkins.
Eating seasonally is an idea that holds up in modern times. Make eating seasonally and enjoying what each part of the year offers a habit, but don’t feel obligated to give up on the tropical produce you’ve come to love just because we’re in a frosty Albertan winter. Like any food movement, take it with a grain of salt and include it where you can, but remember the importance of knowing where your food comes from, and what it means for your health and your wallet.
What’s your favourite in-season recipe for fall? What local farms do you support here in Calgary and Alberta? Join the conversation and let us know on Twitter!