It was 40 degrees and sunny here in Bozeman on Saturday–just the kind of day to make a person think that spring is right around the corner. I know that we still have several weeks of winter ahead of us in Montana, but the sunshine on Saturday had me day-dreaming about the start of the growing season and the abundance of fresh, yummy veggies from my garden and from the local farmers’ markets. It reminded of my 5th nutrition tenet:
Take advantage of all the wonderful foods that are grown in Montana.
Food may not grow as easily in Montana as in warmer climates, but that doesn’t mean that we lack locally produced food. In fact, even in the winter, we can still eat plenty of food grown right here in Montana. Many winter farmers’ markets around the state features locally produced beef, potatoes, onions, cheese, eggs, pork, and wheat flour. During the spring and summer, an abundance of locally grown produce can also be found including peppers, melons, cherries, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, carrots, beans, peas, and more.
Finding locally produced food may take a little extra effort, but here are a few reasons why it’s worth it:
- Nutrition – Most food in the grocery store travels an average of 1500 miles to reach our dinner plate. That’s the equivalent of traveling from Helena to Chicago! With time, fresh produce begins to lose nutrients, so the less distance those veggies have to travel, the better they are in terms of nutrition. A fresh, ripe tomato picked the same day that it’s bought at the farmers’ market has more nutrients than one picked a week ago and had to travel thousands of miles to reach a Montana grocery store. Additionally, small, local producers tend to use more sustainable agricultural practices resulting in produce with fewer or no pesticides.
- Economics – Purchasing food produced by Montanans helps family farms stay viable and keeps money within the local economy.
- Environment— Production, processing, packaging, distribution, storage, and preparation of food requires precious fuel and natural resources and thus has a huge environmental impact. In fact, food related energy use accounted for 15.7% of U.S. energy consumption in 20071. Again, the fewer miles traveled, the better.
- Taste – This might be the most convincing argument for eating Montana-grown food. There is really no comparison between the juicy, sweet tomato grown a mile away to the tasteless, mealy tomatoes you can purchase from the supermarket in February. The same is true with carrots. I consider a home-grown fresh carrot an entirely different vegetable as the bagged carrots available in the supermarket. A fresh vegetable grown for taste and variety is always more flavorful than one grown for yield and travel suitability.
It may be the case that Montana grown foods aren’t readily available in your area. However, you can still consider seasonality. Ever notice that the supermarket looks just about the same in January as it does in June? With our current food system, it’s easy to ignore seasons completely and just eat similar meals year-round. But if you consider what’s in season when meal planning and grocery shopping, you’re likely to save money, as produce in season is usually cheaper, and have better tasting meals with produce picked at the peak of ripeness. Plus, it adds variety and excitement to your dinner meals.
People also cite cost as a reason for not buying locally produced foods. While it’s true that many locally produced foods are more expensive, it’s likely that you are paying for a superior product. For example, local beef is typically leaner than mass-produced beef, which means less weight is lost during the cooking process. To stretch your food dollar, choose one or two local foods to feature, and then round out the meal with less expensive foods.
Farmers’ markets aren’t the only places to find fresh, locally grown produce. Many grocery stores and co-ops carry local produce or you can grow your own veggies & herbs in your backyard or porch or windowsill. It may be February, but it’s not too early to start planning. Container gardening is a good place to start and requires only a few materials – soil, a container, and seeds. Salad greens, tomatoes, kale, chard, green onions, and kohlrabi are all good container gardening candidates. For backyard vegetable gardens, check out the great resources here from the MSU Extension Service: http://www.msuextension.org/store/Departments/Yard-and-Garden/Vegetables.aspx There’s something very rewarding about growing your own veggies, putting in the effort and TLC to ensure they grow, and watching the plants mature that makes you willing to try vegetables that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise – a great strategy for picky vegetable eaters! You could also consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to receive a weekly box of fresh garden produce (or in some cases, even eggs, honey, meat, or dairy) in exchange for payment at the beginning of the growing season. Find a CSA in your area here: www.localharvest.org
Bring on the Spring!