What ‘Seasonality’ Actually Means and Why it’s Important

25th August 2021

We use lots of terminology when talking about fresh produce. Classifications like ‘organic’, ‘GM free’ and ‘free range’ all describe what type of processes have been included or excluded in the production of the food we eat – but what about something more general, like the widely bandied phrase, ‘in season’. You’ve probably Googled ‘When are purple carrots in season’, or ‘when is it stone fruit season’ – and you’ll likely get a straightforward answer of a handful of months each year. 

What does seasonality mean?  And what impact does eating out-of-season have on our planet?  Both are interesting questions, with even more interesting answers. Here, we’ve explained what it means for you, our Farmdrop Foodie to shop for fresh produce in it’s seasonal peak.  

Contents:

  1. What does seasonality mean?
  2. Why is eating seasonally important?
  3. Is eating seasonally better for you?
  4. Is eating seasonal food good for the planet?
  5. How do I eat seasonally?

What does seasonality mean?

The simplest definition of seasonality in food is the harvesting and consumption of produce when it is at its natural peak. We use the term ‘natural’ because many foods are grown ‘out of season’, meaning they’re given an artificial climate to help them grow. Seasonality refers to the specific time that any given produce would be at its ripest in conditions only provided by nature.

Why is eating seasonally important?

You’re supporting local farmers

Eating seasonally plays an important role in supporting local growers and farmers. While the globalisation of food production and distribution certainly has its benefits, the drawback to this is the rapid upscaling of farms to keep up with the increasing demand. These farms are either situated abroad where the warmer climate allows food to be grown all year, or they use chemical-intensive crop farming to force fruit and vegetables to grow out of season.

Small scale fruit and veg growers use natural farming methods such as crop rotation and biodynamic agriculture that work in tandem with the seasons, not in spite of them. So when you buy produce in season, not only is it at its peak, but you’re also supporting the local economy as well.

Knowing the provenance of your food, the processes that have gone into growing it, and the best time of year to eat it, will reconnect you to the ground that feeds you, expand your culinary capabilities, and empower you to be in control of the impact of your shop.

Freddie Forrester, Fruit and Veg Buyer at Farmdrop

 

It can be better for your wallet

Eating seasonally will, generally speaking, cost you less. Have you noticed that the price of Asparagus in July is lower than it is in October. The increase in availability in July causes the prices to drop – the market prices according to supply and demand. In addition, import and transportation costs for fresh produce to enter the UK from international markets inflates the price. So when you buy in season, and from a regional farm, you’re not paying for shipping and inflation. 

Seasonal food actually tastes better

There’s no getting around it, food eaten at the height of season simply tastes better (if you don’t believe us, try one of our proper British strawberries during the summer). To ensure produce is at it’s tastiest, you want to consume as close to harvest as possible. Fruit and vegetables brought in from overseas can take days or weeks to arrive on our shelves. To mitigate this travel time, produce is either harvested earlier than it should be so it’s ripe on arrival, or it’s picked at the right time but spoils in transit. At Farmdrop, we buy produce directly from the source, which means it goes from farm to plate in the shortest timespan. Around 70%  of our fresh fruit and veg are sourced from the UK. By comparison, just 23% of fresh fruit and veg sold throughout the UK is grown in Britain.    

Farm shoot at Haye Farm for Food Drop , Musbury Devon, July 2020 UK

Is eating seasonally better for you?

It may taste better, but is eating seasonally better for your health? The short answer is yes, produce is at their most nutrient dense at the peak of their season. 

It’s recommended we need to eat a nutritious diet based on a variety of foods originating mainly from plants,” to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But when we have access to the same fruits and vegetables all year round, we continue to select the same produce regardless of season. We’re often told when it comes to nutrition we should ‘eat the rainbow’. This becomes tricky when we’re consuming the same foods over and over again.

And we’re all guilty of this. The Grocer reported that Britain’s most purchased fruit and veg in 2019 was exactly the same as it was in 2018, in the same order of popularity. 

Which is why, when you eat more seasonality you’re giving you body access to a wider variety of vitamins and nutrients.  A great example is broccoli. It is grown outdoors in the UK from July to November. Instead of purchasing broccoli all year round we can switch to it’s cousin the purple sprouting broccoli, which is in season in the UK from October to April. While broccoli is high in vitamin C and is a great source of fibre, purple sprouting broccoli is a great source of vitamins and minerals like calcium and B9.

 Is eating seasonal food good for the planet?

Crops harvested at the height of its season are more likely to have experienced less intervention to grow. Approximately 70% of the UK is made up of agricultural farmland – which means much of our soil and natural environment is altered artificially to ensure a longer season, or out of season growing.

The IPCC report recently confirmed that climate change cannot be slowed if our soils continue to be farmed traditionally. The  good news is, there are small-scale farmers working to produce food in a way that looks to actually enhance the quality of soil.

It’s reported that a fifth of all plastic sold in UK supermarkets is packaging for fruit and vegetables. We could save 30,000 tonnes of plastic waste by switching to loose fruit and veg. At Farmdrop, you’ll notice that our orders don’t come with unnecessary plastic packaging. Any bags are all compostable, and we work with local farmers and growers whose short transit times ensure our fresh produce arrives without the need for plastic bags. 

On the topic of local farms, buying locally grown produce also reduces our carbon emissions. A kilo of apples grown in the UK will produce 0.32 kg of CO2 equivalent emissions. Compare this to 0.43 kg if grown in Europe, and 0.88kg if sourced from the rest of the world. Likewise raspberries and other berries produce 0.85kg of emissions per kilo, this figure jumps up to 1.41kg if sourced from outside of Europe.

How do I eat seasonally?

Check out our seasonality guide

If you’re in a hurry and want to find out what’s in season now, read our monthly what’s in season blog post to find out everything you need to know.

Look for origin

Aside from reading our seasonality guide, you can always check our grower’s packaging to find out where your produce has come from. Just look for the ‘country of origin’ label on the packaging.

Get creative

Challenge yourself by changing recipes to suit what’s actually in season, rather than hunting down specific items. You can swap out fruits and vegetables relatively easily, and with some delicious results!  Experiment in the kitchen with produce that has a long UK growing season that you might have previously avoided, like turnips, kale and kohlrabi.

When in doubt, buy from Farmdrop

Some fresh produce cannot be sourced locally (despite our best efforts), for example citrus fruits. However, we want you to be able to do an entire grocery shop at Farmdrop which is why we supplement our local selection with carefully chosen products from elsewhere. 

An expansive but local-first range of produce is a win-win for everyone. You get to eat great quality produce from local and independent producers, while they get to sell to a much wider market, which in turn supports a more sustainable food system.

 

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