How to eat seasonally this summer

Priya Sundaresan/Staff

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Eating seasonally is healthy, delicious and sustainable but a little overwhelming. How do you know which vegetables are in season? How do you do shop without spending all your money at the farmers market? What even are seasonal foods?

Eating seasonally means that you eat produce that is sold shortly after it is harvested. Different kinds of crops are produced at different times of the year for all sorts of reasons, but it often has to do with how much sunlight and water plants need. Though being intentional about your food takes some getting used to, all it really takes is looking up a few guides and making a commitment. Also, forgive yourself if you sometimes make mistakes or occasionally buy out of season — nobody expects you to be perfect. To get started, check out these tips for eating seasonally and locally summer.

Why eat seasonally

Eating seasonally is great for a host of reasons. Often, eating seasonally is the healthiest choice, especially if you’re avoiding pesticides and herbicides by opting for organic options. Seasonal foods are able to grow with all the best conditions and aren’t rushed off to the store when they’re barely ripe. This means they are full of nutrients, without the addition of chemical ripening agents. Seasonal foods tend to be more flavorful and delicious because they can ripen fully. Seasonal foods also often travel less to get to your local store, meaning less carbon is emitted into the atmosphere to bring them to your table. When foods are grown and sold seasonally and locally, there is less time for them to spoil during the transport process. Plus, eating seasonally supports movements to use natural growing methods such as sunlight and rainwater, rather than pesticides, herbicides and unsustainable irrigation practices that make it easier to grow out of season. 

How to figure out what is in season

If you’re sold on eating seasonally, great! The next step is to figure out what seasonal eating means for you. It can be a bit confusing, especially if you feel like the produce options at your local grocery store look the same year-round. Luckily there are lots of online guides that describe what kind of foods are in season depending on where you live and what season it is. This early summer, if you’re in Berkeley, be on the lookout for vegetables such as bok choy, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, summer squash, artichokes and green beans. In terms of fruit, look for stone fruits such as peaches and apricots, and berries such as blackberries and raspberries. But this is only the start of what you’ll see for seasonal options.

How to buy seasonally

Buying seasonally doesn’t mean you have to purchase all of your food at the farmer’s market. Once you have a sense of what is in season, you can go anywhere you’d like to buy produce, watching out for packaging and signs that describe where the food was grown. Even if you read that squash is in season, if the squash you’re buying came from across the country, it might not be that sustainable. A good idea is to go to the farmer’s market and see what fruits and vegetables are being sold. You can use the farmer’s market as your personalized seasonal and local food guide, even if it’s not convenient for you to buy all your groceries there. Although the farmer’s market might have some steep prices, when you’re looking for seasonal goods, they can often be cheaper because of seasonal abundance.

How to grow seasonally

If you’re interested in growing some plants to supplement your grocery shopping, there are lots of things you can grow if you have outdoor space or a well-lit area inside. Small tomato plants are bountiful and fairly easy to grow, as are certain kinds of lettuce and cucumber. If a larger plant feels too stressful, start with a small herb garden with choices such as mint, thyme, sage and rosemary. Though fruits are delicious, things such as strawberries and melons are hard to grow if you’re not used to gardening. While growing seasonally can be a lot of fun, it can also be a lot of work. If you need help, stop by a local nursery or a farmer’s market stand to ask for some tips and advice. If you don’t know where to start, you can also look into gardening with Berkeley Student Farms this summer.

Hopefully buying seasonally doesn’t feel intimidating after reading this guide. Know that every effort you make towards eating sustainably is great, even if you aren’t always perfect. Enjoy the process, and enjoy the delicious fruits and vegetables grown locally and seasonally in your area.

Contact Elysa Dombro at [email protected].