In June of 2012, I spent 3 weeks in Italy, traveling around, eating different foods and learning how to cook according to Italian tradition. I have been forever ruined by that trip because their fresh, locally grown tomatoes and the delicious homemade pasta sauces are unbeatable! Now I struggle to eat the tomatoes and sauces we have over here.
Tomatoes are just one food that has been affected by commercialization, and not just in their taste. Tomatoes grown in North America by big corporations have way fewer nutrients than their locally grown buddies; in return, the amount of fats and sodium in commercially grown tomatoes has increased significantly. Mass produced tomato crops have 200% more sodium compared to tomatoes produced just over 50 years ago – this is bad news for tomato lovers (and women) because the more sodium we ingest, the more calcium is leached from our bones.
Luckily for me, I have found that I can still get delicious, just-like-in-Italy tomatoes from our local farmers’ and community gardens towards the end of summer! Through trials and tears, I have figured out how to care for my own tomato plants so that I can harvest as many of their fruit as possible just to experience that wonderful fresh taste again, even if only for a couple of months a year.
We’ve all heard that when you eat foods that are ‘in-season’, you are getting the highest nutritional value possible. Seasonal produce is even more beneficial to your health if you choose locally grown foods because you’ll reduce your carbon footprint, you’ll be more aware of where they are grown and you will be getting foods that are right for you. (Evidence shows that eating local foods, where ever you are in the world, provides your body with the right combination of nutrients to keep you healthy in that particular climate.) Locally grown produce generally comes from families and small businesses that care about their crops – when scientists and mass producers of vegetables were asked to list the top 10 characteristics of a successful harvest, not one person included ‘flavor’ or ‘nutritional value’ in their answers! Scary, right?
Here in Calgary, we are fortunate to have several great farmer’s markets that operate all year. While these markets are great for grabbing great locally grown or raised foods all through the year, there is something extra special when the farmers start bringing out their seasonal produce. And the taste – nothing compares to fresh berries in July!
In-season produce costs less than other fruits or vegetables because it’s in abundance and doesn’t have to be shipped from around the world. Purchase lots of fresh produce in-season and freeze what you can to save for later. Freezing keeps most nutrients intact until you’re ready to eat the fruits or vegetables.
Locally grown, in-season produce is by far the best tasting produce ever! Compare a locally grown tomato to one that has been shipped from across the continent – the former is juicy and delicious; the latter is often a wee bit tough and often kind of mushy and dry. Even locally grown tomatoes that are grown indoors have a different taste than fresh, natural tomatoes. The more natural sunlight a plant is exposed to, the more antioxidants it can build up, which is important for combating cancer-causing free radicals in our bodies.
Nutritional value also degrades the longer a food is held in transport. Harvesting foods early reduces their nutritional content because they haven’t had the opportunity to grab all the substances they need from the sun, soil and water. Foods lose nutritional value quickly when they are removed from their own food sources so the best time to eat produce is within 72 hours of it being picked.
Food that must travel to get to us is often picked ‘green’. Ethylene is a plant hormone that is responsible for the natural ripening process that leads to the final color, texture, and flavor of a fruit or vegetable. Produce that is picked ‘green’ is ripened at the time of selling by artificially gassing it with ethylene so you get those rich colors you see in the supermarket produce aisles. The problem with this instant-ripening is that the food has lost the majority of its nutritional value simply because it wasn’t fully mature when it was picked.
Genetically modified crops are becoming all the rage for commercial farmers because GMO seeds have been designed to be resistant to many of the pests and problems that can reduce a crop’s yield. However, GMO crops create other problems too, by negatively affecting non-pests like honeybees, butterflies and other insects needed to help pollinate our plants.
You can do so much to make sure you’re getting the most nutritious fruits and vegetables available. Visit your local farmer’s market regularly and ask what foods have been most recently harvested.
Find a piece of dirt and plant your own food – use flower pots, patches of soil or join a community garden. Wading pools and litter boxes work great for growing seedlings! Plant your own gardens with organic, heritage seeds. Organic growing is the oldest and simplest type of farming, the way all crops were produced for thousands of years. Instead of using chemicals, try sprinkling diatomaceous earth on your plants and in your soil – the sharp edges are fatal to insects but there is nothing toxic to humans. If you can’t grow your own food, sign up for one of the local community growers to have fresh produce delivered to you when you want. Many farmers from outside the city will set up a time and place to meet you once or twice a month to give you their latest goodies.
Use the list below to find out what’s in-season when in Alberta so you can choose the most nutrient-dense produce possible! And, remember that foods transported from B.C. during the summer are also picked very close to their selling date and offer you a great opportunity to support local, Canadian farmers.
June: Asparagus, Lettuce, Green Onions, Peas, Radishes, Tomatoes
July: Beans, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Green Onions, Peas, Peppers, Radishes, Tomatoes, Apples, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cherries, Raspberries, Saskatoon Berries, Strawberries
August: Beans, Beets, Cauliflower, Celery, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Onions, Green Onions, Peas, Peppers, Pumpkins, Radishes, Rutabagas, Tomatoes, Winter Squash, Apples, Blackberries, Blueberries, Pears, Raspberries, Saskatoon Berries, Strawberries
September: Beans, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Corn, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Onions, Green Onions, Peas, Peppers, Pumpkins, Rutabagas, Tomatoes, Winter Squash, Apples
October: Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Pumpkins, Rutabagas, Winter Squash, Apples, Cranberries
November: Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Pumpkins, Winter Squash, Cranberries
December to March: Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Rutabagas, Winter Squash
The End of Food by Thomas F. Pawlick