You may have bought a container of strawberries in the winter, only to discover they don’t taste nearly as sweet as they do in the summer. Or maybe the mangoes you bought in the spring weren’t nearly as good as the ones you had in the fall. If you’re struggling to find perfectly-ripe fruits and vegetables, it could be because they’re simply not in season.
Seasonal produce is produce that’s harvested and sold within the same season. When we buy produce that’s in season, we’re buying fruits and vegetables that have been freshly harvested and have the most flavor. That’s why your winter strawberries don’t taste as good as a summer batch. They’re not locally harvested.
If you want to step up your grocery game and buy in-season produce, this is your go-to guide. Here’s why it’s important to buy in-season produce, and all the fruits and vegetables to look out for each season.
Why Does Buying In-Season Produce Matter?
It’s true: You can buy most fruits and vegetables year-round. Even though the produce is fresher and more flavorful when it’s in season, we still have the option to buy out-of-season produce. However, buying your produce during the off-season has a major environmental and social impact.
When you buy out-of-season produce, you’re buying produce that has been shipped a long distance to get to you. Those winter strawberries may look delicious, but they’ve come a long way. Many fruits and vegetables are climate-sensitive, so they have to be grown and harvested under ideal conditions. And if colder weather isn’t ideal, that produce is harvested elsewhere and shipped to grocery stores.
This comes with an increase in transportation emissions. Whether produce is hauled by truck or plane, getting off-season produce to the grocery store (and to your table) emits a lot of greenhouse gases. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2019, transportation accounted for about 29% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Plus, seasonal food doesn’t rely on as many chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or post-harvest treatments. Off-season produce may undergo various treatments, including heat treatments and anti-browning treatments to keep the food fresh for when you purchase it. This comes with an increase in chemical and energy usage—and an increase in the food’s carbon footprint.
Here’s a seasonal produce guide to help you navigate the grocery store all year long.
Your Guide to Buying Seasonal Produce
Seasonal produce may vary depending on where you live. Here’s a general list of which primary fruits and vegetables are in season throughout the year.
Vegetables: Beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, kale, onions, sweet potatoes, squash, and turnips.
Fruits: Apricots, avocados, bananas, grapefruit, kiwifruit, lemons, limes, oranges, passionfruit, pineapples, and strawberries.
Vegetables: Asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, collard greens, kale, lettuce, onions, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips.
Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cucumbers, honeydew melon, lemons, limes, mangoes, peaches, plums, raspberries, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Vegetables: Beets, bell peppers, carrots, celery, corn, eggplant, green beans, okra, summer squash, and zucchini.
Fruits: Apples, bananas, cranberries, grapes, kiwifruit, lemons, limes, mangoes, pears, pineapples, pumpkin, and raspberries.
Vegetables: Beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, green beans, kale, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, squash, and sweet potatoes.
Where to Find In-Season Produce
1. Local Farmers’ Market
Buying local produce means you’re supporting local farmers. And it means your fruits and veggies haven’t had to travel far to get to you. This decreases shipping emissions and the use of harsh chemicals, and it supports local businesses. Plus, your produce is fresher!
Farmers’ markets will only offer in-season fruits, vegetables, and even flowers, so you won’t have to worry about buying out-of-season.
2. Check Local Food Directories
If you want to buy locally, but you’re not sure where to look, check the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) directory. You can search for farms near you and discover which products they have available—including fruits, vegetables, herbs, and grains.
3. Local Grocery Store
If you don’t have a farmers’ market near you, you can still buy your fruits and veggies from your local grocery store. Aside from looking for in-season produce, also pay close attention to our ethical and sustainable labels guide to help you choose planet-friendly choices.
4. Grow Your Own
One of the most sustainable ways to shop for produce isn’t to shop at all: It’s to grow your own! You can grow tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, strawberries, watermelon, and more—right from your home.
There are also ways to keep up an indoor garden year-round, no matter the weather. Check out our gardening guides and learn tips for how to get started on your garden.
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