Monday, March 26, 2012

10 Tips for Seasonal, Local Eating

I really love the local food movement.  I want to support farmers and other producers in my community.  I want to see small farms thrive.  I want to reduce the distance my food must travel in order to end up on my plate.  I want to buy food that is grown in such a way as to minimize disturbance to natural systems.  And, despite not being overly fond of vegetables as a child, I am quite excited about them these days.  I want to challenge myself to come up with imaginative ways to use fresh, in-season produce.  However, up until today, I haven't really been a very committed locavore.

Today, after church, I stopped in at the grocery store because we were out of milk and fresh produce.  When I got home and unpacked the fruit and vegetables that I picked up, this is what my counter looked like:

Not one of these fruits pictured above is in season on Prince Edward Island in March.  And only half of these can even be produced on PEI period!  (Even at that, it's not like cantaloupe melons are prolific on our fair isle-our growing season really isn't warm enough or long enough!)

I looked at my counter, and I felt guilty about what I was seeing.  Yes, I had pretty good reasons for buying these items: I wanted all of us to have a range of healthy, colourful foods to eat, and I wanted to buy fruit and vegetables that I knew my children would eat (particularly James, who is pretty fussy when it comes to "real food").  What's in season around here right now?  Carrots, turnips, parsnips, cabbage and potatoes.  Out of that bunch, James likes carrots and potatoes.  Which pretty much form the basis of his diet in terms of vegetable matter for the last few months.

It's easy for us to find a huge diversity of local foods in the summer and early fall, but what about the winter and early spring?

After I tweeted this picture, my darling friend Jackie of Educating Jackie and I started up a bit of a conversation about it (note my thumb-error in the first tweet!):

So yeah, maybe a little unrealistic to think we'll some day grow bananas and avocados on PEI.  So what am I to do, exactly?

Well, after a combination of a little thought and a little research, I've come up with a number of tips for getting myself on the locavore straight-and-narrow:

  1. Make a list of the foods you eat regularly, and determine where they are coming from.  It's so easy to see a recipe online that you want to try and pick up exotic ingredients for it, or to fall into habits that require buying out-of-season produce (like my tomato sandwich addiction that has been a huge part of my life since childhood!).  It's possible you don't even realize how much food you're eating that is coming from far-away locales.
  2. Now make a list of the foods that are locally available during the winter season.  You might be surprised what really is available to you in the winter.  Even in our cold, snowy, Canadian climes there are options of vegetables and fruits with long-term storage capabilities.  Figuring out what is available from local producers and planning your meals around these items will help before you even pick them up.
  3. Sign up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box.  By picking up a veggie box from a nearby organic grower throughout the year, and not just in the summer and fall, you'll not only be supporting sustainable farming in your area during the off-season, but you'll be pretty much forced to be creative with what you get.  If half of your box is full of turnip, you'll be googling recipes and finding out ways to use turnip that you never knew existed!  The CSA box that I used to get (until Sus was born and I ended up wasting veggies that weren't being properly appreciated and cooked due to sleep deprivation) included recipes every week to give you ideas on how to use what was in the box.
  4. Be proactive in the summer and fall.  Grow (or purchase locally grown) extra veggies in the summer and fall when the getting (and variety!) is good, and can, freeze, or dehydrate your bounty so that you can have tastes of the growing season all year long.
  5. Use a cold frame.  A cold frame is a simple box with a slanted, transparent lid to go over your plants and protect them late into the season.  This is a great way to get more from your veggie garden in climates like ours!  Directions on how to make one can be found here.
  6. Mulch.  Mulching cold weather vegetables, especially root vegetables, can leave you with a little wiggle room for harvesting fresh veggies a little later on without quite as much need for storage.
  7. Get creative. I've heard that most people eat the same 20 or so foods prepared the same way for the majority of their diet.  By changing habits a little bit here and a little bit there, we can definitely find new ways to eat the standby winter produce in ways we haven't experienced before.
  8. Look up old recipes.  There's no doubt that we are becoming more cosmopolitan in our dining and many of us rush out to buy new cookbooks that teach us how to cook with exotic specialty items.  It's part of living in a beautiful multicultural society.  However, when we want to rely on seasonal, local fare, these new cookbooks aren't quite so helpful.  But I bet a number of you can get your hands on your grandmothers' cookbooks!  In older recipe books, there are more traditional ways of preparing food that utilize what was on hand during that time.  And many of us have moved away from classic favourites.  Maybe it's time to revisit them!
  9. Participate in food tourism and promotion where you live.  Food is becoming a super important part of tourism here on PEI.  With events like PEI Flavours, WinterDine, Farm Day in the City, and a growing emphasis on farmers markets and farm gate sales, not only do we have access to great local produce but to the delicious works of innovative chefs who want to cook with what they can get their hands on here, and now.
  10. Don't go crazy trying!  It's a bit daunting to try to figure out a whole new menu plan for your family based on what is grown and raised near you.  Maybe start out with one or two family meals a week that feature only local, seasonal foods.  See how that goes, and then perhaps as you become more accustomed to it, it will become old hat.  Nobody is saying that eating a banana or pineapple in Canada is some sort of cardinal sin!  It's just time to become more aware of where the food we eat comes from, consider the hands that sowed, nourished, grew, and harvested it, and appreciate that entire process.
I'll keep you posted on how this path works out for me!  Please share any suggestions (or especially recipes!) if you have any.


I'd like to thank Kristen of Living The Rustic Life for presenting me with the Liebster Blog Award.  It's so lovely to think that someone who has read some of my posts would think it worthy of recognition.  I really appreciate it!  Receiving the award coincided with achieving my goal of 25 followers on my blog, which I hoped to reach by the summer.  So yay!

This post is shared with Homestead Barn Hope #55 at Homestead Revival.


  1. thanks for being so honest with your journey! great tips!

    have you read "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barabara Kingsolver? I just finished it this weekend actually. She's a fiction writer but this book is a food memoir of her family's journey to eating locally for one year. it's a fun read with great factional information about the food industry. it really opened my eyes and further committed me to eat more locally and changing my habits.

    i look forward to your future posts!

  2. Have you read the 100 Mile Diet? Might be a helpful/interesting read :)

  3. Thanks for the suggestions, ladies! Those two books have been on my reading list for a while, just haven't gotten around to them. I've been trying to buy locally as much as possible for a few years now (not that it shows in the above photo!) and I think my biggest obstacle is that some of the wintry vegetables aren't so tempting for my family (and I really, really need to eat tomatoes--even when they aren't as nice during the winter!). I'm going to try to find new recipes that should up the desirability of the old standbys and see what I can do about making them a little more exciting!

  4. Great tips. I live in Central California where we can get most everything locally. {I'm very fortunate!} I agree with you - don't beat yourself up if you're not perfect. No one is. We do the best we can to live sustainably and that's all we can do. Every little bit helps.

    Peace. ;)

  5. I used to get those produce boxes when I lived in Ottawa. So good!

  6. I've always wondered about those boxes! Certainly something I will look into.

  7. Thanks for the great post! I pinned it to my "living naturally" board as this is relatively new to me & is something I really want to get on board with. We received a canning set for our wedding & I am excited to begin stocking up this season!


I love to get comments and questions, and particularly suggestions!