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Benefits of eating seasonal and where to start in Georgia

Late summer will bring lots of peppers, apples and winter squash to the tables of the East Point Farmers Market.
Courtesy of Erin Rodgers

Credit: Erin Rodgers

Credit: Erin Rodgers

Late summer will bring lots of peppers, apples and winter squash to the tables of the East Point Farmers Market. Courtesy of Erin Rodgers

Your taste buds have no trouble recognizing the benefit of seasonal eating. Your first bite of a locally grown peach, or an omelette made with basil and onions fresh from the farmers market can be sublime.

But when you eat most of your meals standing at the nurse’s station, are in a huge rush to fix dinner when you get home or don’t have great options for buying fresh produce, the importance of eating food grown in the season can quickly fade.

That’s where the secondary benefits are worth another look. These freshly grown foods also deliver increased nutrition, make it more likely that you’ll eat your veggies and may even help you develop a sense of community.

It’s counterintuitive, but the more reluctant you are to eat fruits and vegetables, the more important seasonal ingredients are. If you’re only going to be taking a couple of bites, you want them to be the most nutritious possible.

Also, picky eaters who don’t like canned vegetables or school cafeteria side dishes might respond much better to crunchy, fresh vegetables or lightly steamed versions. Think snap peas eaten straight from the vine, or fresh apples versus watery canned applesauce.

And those are just the benefits you’ll receive. Seasonal eating helps the environment and local businesses, too, from avoiding the carbon footprint of shipping and storing produce to paying local farmers, distributors and farm-to-table restaurants for food raised nearby.

To begin tapping into all those positives, it’s important to understand the distinction between local and global seasonal eating. “A locally seasonal fruit or vegetable is produced and consumed in its natural growing season,” noted Lilly Nugent, Tulane dietetic intern with Ochsner Eat Fit. “Globally seasonal fruits and vegetables are produced in their natural season, but they are consumed outside of this region.”

Each type has its place. “When we buy locally seasonal foods from farmers markets, we receive a better understanding of our food system ... where our food came from,” Nugent added. “These practices help us form a relationship with food that we can’t inside the grocery store, not to mention, we are supporting our local farmers in our communities.”

But focusing too strictly on the local at the expense of global can backfire. “If we were to eat locally seasonal foods only, we would greatly limit the diversity of foods we are accustomed to,” she said. “This is where global seasonality is a benefit. This gives us the opportunity to choose from a greater variety, which can ultimately increase our fruit and veggie consumption.”

If you’re going to make only one adjustment, see about adding a couple of local seasonal foods to your menu plan. Food grown naturally in your climate is extra nutritious, according to Brigitte Zeitlin, a New York City-based registered dietician with a Master of Public Health. “You get the maximum amount of nutrients the (produce) has to offer when it’s picked at its ripest and sold to you over the next few days,” she told the Well and Good blog.

The longer your produce sits in storage or is in transit to your grocery store, the lower its nutritional value.

One example is spinach shipped from another state or another country. According to 2017 research published in the Food Chemistry journal, three days from picking, the leafy green loses 80% of its vitamin C, and five days later about half of its folate is gone.

To begin seasonal eating in Georgia, start with these ideas:

Check out what’s in season. The USDA’s Snap-Ed program compiles a seasonal produce guide that lists what’s at its freshest in each of the four seasons, along with offering buying tips for each type of produce, like cherries or okra.

Seek out area delivery services. Georgia Organics has an extensive list intended to connect individuals with organic produce providers. The most recent issue of its Good Food Guide emphasizes the ones that offer online, pick-up and delivery options. To use the list, you click on a name or logo from the list, and are directed to their website for more details and to place orders from them directly.

Sign up for a CSA. Not only are more community-supported agriculture shares available in Georgia, but you also have more options in what you can buy, where it’s delivered and how often. Not too long ago, belonging to a CSA meant that you signed up once a year, for a full share, and took whatever the grower delivered. Those types of CSAs are still available, if you want to jump into the idea completely and have a close relationship with a local grower.

Some advice about CSAs, though: Make sure to sign up early in the season. CSAs have to plan their expenses and what they’ll grow around who commits to them and how much they’re paying; they tend to stop taking new clients fairly early in the season. At the same time, the best options tend to go quickly, though you may luck out and find a new enterprise that’s wonderful and doesn’t have an established client base yet.

Browse a couple of area markets. The Freedom Farmers Market at the Carter Center is held 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays at the Carter Center Library, 453 Freedom Parkway NE, Atlanta. Operated since 2014 with the goal of bringing local and sustainable food to intown residents, this market offers local products from handmade pasta to farm fresh eggs and fresh vegetables.

During the pandemic, the usual live music and foods for onsite consumption are on hold, but the vendors bring their best and the socially distanced shopping still provides a strong sense of community. Preorder from individual farmers who deliver at the market here.

The Emory Farmers Market, held 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesdays, except during the one month summer break, features both global and local seasonal options, including fresh produce, honey, and fair trade and organic coffee. It’s held at Cox Hall Bridge, 569 Asbury Circle, Atlanta.

Eat Right Atlanta hosts markets Monday-Friday all around Atlanta, too. Here’s where to check out which of their markets are still in progress even with the pandemic. The group is also primed for deliveries of boxes, with options like a juicing bag, a large family box that will feed four or five people, and an option for employers to order deliveries to the workplace. (Hospitals are already a mainstay for Eat Right Atlanta sales.)

Help grow the food. Even if you don’t have time for your own garden or to prepare local produce at every meal, you can still help grow food in Georgia. The Volunteer Match online listing has ongoing details about volunteer opportunities at local organic and botanical gardens.

Splurge on a farm-to-table restaurant meal. To rev up your interest in seasonal eating, check out what some Georgia chefs are doing with local produce and herbs. Good options in the Atlanta area include Buttermilk Kitchen and a few others recommended by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Remember, a lovely meal with friends or a date has the added mental health benefit of socializing, and may inspire you to begin cooking your own seasonal menu at home.

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