Eating and Shopping Seasonally

How do we know what is “in season” when we are shopping?  We can buy cantaloupe anytime of the year we feel like it.  How can there be “personal” watermelons in December?  Cherries in January?  Asparagus, a spring crop, is available year round now.  How do we know what to buy, if we want to eat seasonally?

A good way to tell about seasonality at the grocery store is to look for the country of origin on the label.  Anything coming from the southern hemisphere in winter time is out of season in North America.  Another good way to tell what’s in season in our immediate locale is to see what the local farmers are selling at their markets.  In Fort Collins, as well as Cheyenne to the north, we are blessed with Winter Markets held indoors.


Attend these events, and notice what the farmers are selling.  We aren’t seeing cherries or strawberries at our Indoor Markets.  No melon.  No tomatoes or bell peppers, unless it’s greenhouse grown.  But even with a greenhouse, we won’t see these crops in January in Colorado.  In Fort Collins, we’ll see beets, carrots, cabbages, onions and kohlrabi, celeriac; apple cider and jams, jellies, salsas and sauces; cheeses; mushrooms; and beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, and eggs.  If it’s not been too cold, we’ll see some of the tougher greens like kale and collards, and beautiful lettuces from a few farmers with greenhouses.

What else is in season in January?  All the citrus fruits are a winter time crop in warmer U.S. climates than ours, so plenty of navel oranges and grapefruit from Texas, California, Arizona and Florida.  We’re still seeing some pomegranates, which are more of a fall crop.  Root crops like turnips and rutabagas, along with the beets and carrots, potatoes and onions.  I have a friend who grew up in Alberta, Canada, who won’t eat a rutabaga if his life depends on it.  Growing up, their lives did depend on rutabagas, and he had more than his fill of them.   In the midst of our incredible abundance, I often think of those who grew everything they ate, stored it over the winter, and when it ran out, they were in trouble.  In Colorado, winter is long and spring comes late.  Surprisingly, April is the hardest month.  By April the winter stores are used up, and it’s too early for spring crops.  I have occasionally sown spinach in the fall, and had it emerge in March ready to cut.  And a cold frame will allow kale to tolerate our winters.  Do a little research to see what’s really in season in the United States, and what’s coming many thousands of miles, that we buy without thinking about the fuel it takes to bring it to our stores.

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