You’ve probably heard someone say, “It’s _____ season!”
That person is excited – whether it’s a holiday season, legging season, football season, or pool season.
For me, I get excited about my favorite foods’ seasons.
Why you should eat produce when it’s in season.
When I started researching how to lower my carbon footprint through food, eating food that is local and in season was the number #2 best habit to adopt. (The first sustainable eating habit is to reduce how much meat and dairy I eat, especially beef and cow products.)
Eating locally-sourced produce does great things for your community and the planet. Small and medium-sized farmers rely on their local community in order to stay in business and to put food on their own tables.
Second (but just as important), eating produce that’s in season tastes better. A bundle of berries will always taste sweeter and juicier in the summer than strawberries in the winter. Similarly, mandarin oranges in the winter will taste more fresh and crisp than Valencia oranges. Vice versa for summer.
Finally, eating seasonally – unlike eating organic produce – is more economical. Both have their advantages, and when you eat seasonally, you can do both for less money. By shopping for produce at your local market, you start to see what’s in season around you with more accuracy than you could at your neighborhood Kroger, Giant Eagle, Walmart… you get the idea.
How do your favorite foods stack up against the environment? Download the Food & CO2 ebook and charts.
Why include the hardiness zones, and what are they?
So you want to eat more local food? That’s great! Let’s start by finding your hardiness zone – this will dictate what grows near you.
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone – the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. This is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.
Take a look at the map below to see which hardiness zone you live in.
I chose to include hardiness zones in my seasonal food chart because it shows me what’s local as well as what’s in season. We are very lucky that the US holds a wide range of hardiness zones and diverse climates. That means some produce are accessible year-round because we can more easily eat outside of our zone.
Drawbacks to this map and seasonal produce chart.
While the diversity of climates we live in gives us more access to seasonal produce, that diversity has drawbacks in accuracy. The hardiness zones do not account for:
- Precipitation (especially in the East
- Soil drainage during col periods
- Humidity and sunshine
- Elevation (especially in the West)
All of these impact how well a plant will grow. For example, asparagus prefers soil that is sandier than normal, which simply won’t do for onions, which require nutrient-rich soil.
So how do you know what works best in your area? Ask the professionals – your local farmers. I mean it! Go to the farmer’s market and ask them what’s easy and what’s hard to grow in your neck of the woods. You will be smarter and have a (slightly) greener thumb for it.
Lastly, and I hate to sound like a hypocrite here, but you can’t trust any regular blogger to tell you what’s in season this month. Reason 1: see all the information I wrote above about hardiness zones and climate. Reason 2: you probably don’t live in the same area as your favorite blogger – that means what’s in season for him or her won’t match what’s in season for you.
The seasonal food guide I designed is meant to be a guideline for people living in the US. We’re lucky that we have access to seasonal produce more months out of the year because the US covers several hardiness zones. The chart I created below reflects that.
However, you can find a more accurate list of what’s in season by your state and month here. Even better: download the app! Now you can check while you’re at the grocery store if that citrus is in season or not.
My seasonal produce guide
I built this chart because of a goal I had made for myself in 2019: to lower my carbon footprint by following a sustainable diet and food practices.
I learned that reducing my beef and dairy consumption was the #1 habit to adopt to make the biggest impact, and eating locally was #2. In order to start living by that second habit, I needed a list of what’s in season in the US.
A really big, delicious list.
I wanted to create a chart that could work for anyone on the US mainland, because frankly, that’s more helpful to more people. I follow this guide, and I hope you find it helpful as well if you’re trying to eat more seasonally and locally.
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