As we all know by now, eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is an important part of any healthy diet. But what happens once the farmers’ markets have closed for the season? In many places, particularly those that experience frigid cold and snow like Chicago, they shut down by mid-fall and won’t open again until spring, which can make it tough to find your favorites.
The good news is that there are still options for buying the seasonal produce that you love.
The key word here is seasonal. While just about everyone loves juicy, sweet strawberries and raspberries, for example, getting them in the off-season not only means paying a big premium but leaving a huge carbon footprint, as they’re typically flown in thousands of miles from overseas. And, when they’re not at their peak, they won’t taste as good or be as nutritious either.
Seasonal foods are picked when they’re at the height of freshness and contain a higher level of nutrients as compared to out of season produce, something that science has shown when analyzing veggies like spinach. When you eat with the seasons, you’ll be flooding your body with essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and phytochemicals that are important for optimal health.
Where to Buy
Fall and Winter CSAs. The Chicago area is home to some great farms that offer both fall and winter CSA shares. With a CSA (community-supported agriculture), you’ll purchase shares of the harvest by season and then pick up boxes of produce (and possibly other items) at the farm or another location at a scheduled time. Some even deliver.
For example, Kings Hill Farm offers fall farm shares through mid-December. Produce like carrots, potatoes, butternut squash, beets, spinach, radishes, pumpkins, arugula and salad mixes can be picked up right downtown and in the suburbs. Tomato Mountain delivers winter shares from January through March, featuring items like winter spinach and stored root crops – members can join for a specific season or year-round.
Farm Stands. Radical Root Farm in Libertyville has a farm stand open May through December which offers a good selection of organic fruits and vegetables along with cheeses, meats and eggs. Every Saturday from December through April, seasonal veggies and eggs can be purchased.
Fall/Winter Markets. Chicago is home to some great year-round and fall/winter markets featuring local and sustainable produce and products, including the Indoor Farmers Market at Green City Market. It’s hosted at Lincoln Park’s Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and features vendor/farmers selling everything from microgreens to beets, collards and herbs to pumpkins and cranberries.
Local Foods sources all of its food locally, from dairy and meat to produce that can be purchased in every season. It even has its own locally sourced meat shop, Butcher & Larder from animals responsibly raised on small, midwestern family-run farms for a far superior taste and a significantly reduced carbon footprint.
Bonus Tip: Freezing Extra
If you have a hard time using up your fresh produce before it spoils, consider freezing what you won’t eat soon. As soon as you get it home, separate out what you plan to use right away and then freeze the extra – fresh produce that’s frozen right away retains much of the flavor and nutrients.