We have all heard the messages to “Eat Local” and eat what is in season, but what do you do in the middle of winter when there is no longer anything growing in the Pacific North West? The very last of our cruciferous veggies, like kale, chard and cabbage, are finishing in February, as are the root and winter vegetables, such as turnips, rutabaga and squash.
Hopefully you can rely on some of your own frozen and canned produce from our summer harvest – blueberries, tomatoes, greens – so many of our beautiful BC fruits and vegetables which store well. By picking local produce at the peak of ripeness, we get the optimum nutrients and these can be maintained in freezing. There are some nutrients that are susceptible to loss through freezing, for example vitamin C, but even fresh produce can lose vitamin C as it sits around at the grocery store or in your refrigerator.
We also have a few crops that get stored for us by the BC Tree Fruits packing houses. Apples, for example, are stored in a controlled atmosphere where the oxygen and carbon dioxide are replaced with nitrogen to extend the life of the fruit and the temperature maintained at a consistently cold level suited to each type of apple. This allows us to have apples throughout the winter and they are a fantastic source of fibre which is the key nutrient for maintaining digestive health and balancing blood sugar and blood pressure.
In this global age, we also have the ability to get fruits and vegetables from around the world. Berries and other fruit often come from Chile or Australia, many of our greens are now coming from Mexico and the southern United States, especially Florida and California. Certain nutrients will decrease in quantity the longer they travel so try to buy from as close to home as possible – too bad we don’t all live in California!
Healthy fruits and vegetables that we cannot grow in our climate, even in the hottest months, can be rationalized for import more than ones we do grow. An example would be citrus fruits, in season in the winter months, and full of vitamin C. Another example would be the avocado, filled with healthy fibre and unsaturated fats – a tasty alternative for a toast or sandwich spread.
But don’t forget we still have a handful of healthy local products still available-organic sprouts that are grown nearby for example on Vancouver Island. These are chock full of our ‘antioxidant’ vitamins (A, C and E), as well as minerals like potassium and iron. Add some to a salad or sandwich for a burst of freshness in February!
Remember to balance your winter season of eating some imported produce with a summer of supporting only that grown locally!
Nicole Fetterly, RD, Choices Markets