Pick your ears and berries, squash and tomatoes

When it comes to fresh vegetables and fruit, there’s little thrill in hunting down perfect squash, eggplant, blueberries, cucumbers and native tomatoes in our local grocery store aisle. Sure, it’s easier and convenient, but visiting local farms, picking your own and frequenting farmer’s markets and roadside stands connects us with our food far more intimately than does opening a can or reaching into the freezer and popping frozen peas or corn into the microwave.

Don’t misunderstand: Frozen veggies and fruit are good, too, and often very healthy. But there is nothing quite like fruits and vegetables plucked fresh from the bush or vine, or recently pulled out of the ground or off the stalk. Connecticut is abundant in fresh produce – especially in the summer – and seeking out this unprocessed bounty rich in nutrients and often lower in pesticides or genetic mutations is healthy nutritionally and emotionally.

Connecticut features vegetable and dairy farms and fruit orchards throughout the state. The growing season is long and the climate is perfect for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Beans, squash, broccoli and cabbages start to come in around May and are available through October. Strawberries ripen in June, and in July the farms explode with produce, especially raspberries, blueberries, peaches and sweet corn. In August, the pepper and tomato crops are ready, and as summer comes to a close in September, pumpkins and seasonal squash are ready in plenty of time to welcome the autumn.

Fruits and vegetables ripen at different times over the course of the summer. Farms and farmers’ markets are not grocery stores, so not everything is available every week. Even when a crop is in season, there can be shortages due to weather and growing conditions or just high demand. Buying in large quantities is tempting, but unless you’re prepared to freeze or can the fresh fruits and vegetables, what is not immediately consumed will spoil, and spoil quickly. Proper preparation is a must, and if planning to store fresh fruits and vegetables you should do your research and stock up on the appropriate supplies (jars, lids, pectin, freezer bags, etc.).

Beyond the psychological value of searching out and eating locally grown food, there are practical and healthy reasons to celebrate foods that are in season. That’s when you get the most flavor and nutritional value. It’s also the time when it is the most affordable. Additionally, you’ll enjoy the greatest freshness when you look for foods that are both locally grown and are in season.

All of the world’s healthiest foods are seasonal. For ecologists, seasons are considered a source of natural diversity. Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer or fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth’s resources and its life forms. But today it’s so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat. Modern food processing, high-tech storage and worldwide distribution networks make foods available year-round, and grocery stores shelves look much the same in December as they do in July. And with the growth of supermarkets and an ever-widening smorgasbord of imported food, the link between what we eat and when it’s in season has almost disappeared.

Consequently, nutritionists and environmentalists are increasingly concerned that what we gain in choice and convenience we lose in health benefits, leading to a call for a movement back towards seasonal eating. Food that’s in season not only tastes better, but may contain ingredients that suit the body’s needs for that time of year, such as summer fruits with their high fluid content.

Buying locally sustains our State’s farmers, supports the economy and helps remind us about the importance of understanding food sources and nutritional value. Besides, a trip to the farm or a produce stand is fun, and many children have never enjoyed the experience of picking their own berries or vegetables right off the plants, bushes or trees. It’s eye-opening, healthy and a good catalyst for discussing nutrition with the entire family.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!