A walk through the produce section of a supermarket might leave you thinking we can have all kinds of delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables year-round, at least until you actually bite into that January strawberry from South America. These days, most produce in supermarkets comes from California, Florida, and other states with longer growing seasons. Often it is shipped from other countries thousands of miles away. This is true even in the spring, summer, and fall, when local fruits and vegetables are available.
To survive journeys of over a thousand miles, most varieties have been bred for durability rather than flavor or nutrition. Most produce is picked before it can ripen naturally because ripe fruits and vegetables are more easily damaged in transit and rot more quickly. Unripened produce, however, hasn’t yet reached its peak of flavor and nutrient content. Also, fruits and vegetables begin losing nutrients as soon as they’re harvested, so more time spent traveling means less nutritious food.
In the Kansas City area, local lettuce usually becomes available in late April, new potatoes show up around the end of May, the earliest field tomatoes ripen in late June (greenhouse varieties are often available earlier), and sweet corn gets to be “sweet” about the beginning of July. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries each have growing seasons of a few weeks to a couple of months during the summer, depending on the weather. Peaches come on a bit later, and apples, pears, and pumpkins ripen as the signs of autumn appear.
Eating more locally grown foods also means eating more in tune with the seasons. While this may limit being able to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, it also means never suffering the culinary disappointment of biting into a mushy, flavorless tomato in February. Perhaps most importantly, farmers growing for your area are much more likely to grow varieties that were bred for flavor and nutrition rather than durability and a long shelf life.