Eating Local and Organic By the Seasons


Okay, so you know how to shop the farmers’ market and you know that when you shop the farmers’ market, it’s easy to buy what’s local and in season because that’s what the farmers are selling.

But most people still do the majority of their shopping in grocery stores. When faced with six kinds of apples from New Zealand displayed right next to tomatoes from Mexico, pineapples from Costa Rica, and lettuce from California, what’s a local, organic eater to do?

Make Seasonal, Local, and Organic Your Mantra:

Seasonal: If you know what’s in season when in your area, it makes it easier to buy seasonally, even in the grocery store. See below for a handy seasonal produce guide.

Local: Take a look at the grocery store signage to find out where the produce was grown. It’s one thing to buy bananas from Costa Rica, if you must have your bananas, but it makes no sense to buy September’s apples from New Zealand when they are harvested in almost every region in the U.S during the fall.

Organic: Look for the USDA Certified Organic label. Buying organic minimizes your exposure to toxic chemicals and supporting organic growers is better for the planet. If you’re worried about the extra expense, remember that if you buy locally grown organic produce at peak production, prices will be lower.

Once you start eating seasonally, you’ll discover a new joy in food. When you’ve waited all year for that first juicy, local, ripe tomato, instead of eating cardboard flavored ones year round, you’ll enjoy it so much more.

Seasonal Produce Guide:

Many items overlap into two seasons and items grown underground, like fennel, carrots, radishes, and beets can be grown year-round in some parts of the country. Temperate climates also support nearly year-round availability of some greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and mustard greens. This list will be helpful for most parts of the country.

Spring – Asparagus, snap peas, English peas, snow peas, green garlic, artichokes, greens, lettuces, fava beans, radishes, potatoes, carrots, leeks, spring onions, kiwis, citrus, strawberries, rhubarb

Summer – Corn, green beans, summer squash, tomatillos, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, basil, berries (all types) Stonefruit: peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, figs, grapes

Fall – Greens, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, winter squash, fresh shelling beans, sweet potatoes, root vegetables, tomatoes, tomatillos, pears, apples, Asian pears, figs, grapes, melons, persimmons, pomegranates,

Winter – leafy greens, winter squash, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, root vegetables including beets, turnips, rutabega, fennel, carrots, potatoes, celery, citrus, dried fruit, pears and apples (stored from fall)

Enjoy these links to seasonal recipes for some of each season’s most characteristic produce items.


10 Recipes for Artichokes from Cooking Light

Pea Recipes from Eating Well


Corn Recipes and Tips from Epicurious

Stonefruit Recipes from Saveur


Tomato Recipes and Tips from Epicurious

Apple Recipes from Smitten Kitchen


Broccoli Recipes from Mariquita Farm

Winter Squash Recipes from 101 Cookbooks

This is the latest installment in Vanessa Barrington’s weekly column, The Green Plate, on the environmental, social, and political issues related to what and how we eat.

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.