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How to Eat Seasonally for the Climate and for your Health

While much is said of eating a more plant-based diet to help to combat climate change, we also need to have a care over where the plants have come from and when in the year we eat them. Eating seasonally can not only have an impact on your carbon footprint but on your health as well.

This is Week 7 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week’s blog, on the step ‘Eat Seasonal’, is from local resident and entrepreneur, Juliet Foxwell, founder of St Albans-based veg box business Box Local.

Eat seasonally for the environment

The key factor about eating seasonally is the benefit for the environment. The shorter the distance your food has travelled, the lower its carbon footprint, so look for food grown in your local area or, if not, within the UK. Food grown at the appropriate time and in the appropriate climate has a lower carbon footprint still, in terms of water and energy needed to grow it in the first place, so buying local seasonal produce is the way forward.

“Eating seasonally can not only have an impact on your carbon footprint but on your health as well.”

Eat seasonally for your health

Produce that has travelled long distances has been picked earlier and processed longer. By its nature, it is more depleted in nutrients than something picked locally at peak ripeness which is eaten quickly. You will also find that varieties that don’t need a long shelf-life to survive travel can instead be selected for flavour – so seasonal local produce often tastes better too. 

Our bodies have not evolved a huge amount since our hunter-gatherer days and eating what’s around you has its benefits even in modern times. Think of those cold days when you crave comfort food and may turn to sweet treats. This is your body telling you it needs calories to keep warm, and this energy can easily be supplied by the root vegetables available to us locally through the winter. Berries in the autumn provide a much needed boost of Vitamin C before the winter sniffles set in. If we pay a little attention to this we can really get the best out of local eating.

Tips for eating more seasonally

How do we do it though? Here are my 7 tips about how to eat seasonally for the climate and for your health.

1. Find out what is in season

Firstly we need to put in a bit of legwork finding out what’s growing in our area at any given time. There are plenty of online resources to get you started. 

“…seasonal local produce often tastes better too.”

Veg box. Photo: Sustainable St Albans

2. Check supermarket labels to see country of origin

Supermarkets offer pretty much the same selection year round but their labelling helps us make an informed choice as it will usually say at least the country of origin. If you see a far-off country named on the label of fruit or veg that won’t keep long at home, you can be fairly sure it’s been brought to the UK by plane.

Do check labels each time, though, as produce sources will change from week to week. Sadly, because of this, the option of checking the country of origin is usually only available to those who shop in-store.

3. Try a veg box that focusses on seasonal produce

Online supermarket shopping is not great for sussing our where the produce is from, but if you need a delivery you could let a local veg box service do the legwork for you and cut this side of your shop from the supermarket delivery. 

A veg box will usually offer seasonal items as a matter of course but not all veg boxes are created equal. Some schemes focus on organic produce which may come from far flung places so again you need to know what you are signing up for. Spend a little time looking for what’s important to you before deciding which one to try. 

  • Box Local – St Albans based delivering seasonal local produce weekly throughout St Albans, Shenley, Park Street, London Colney, Redbourn, Markyate, Wheathampstead and Harpenden 
  • Riverfod – seasonal organic produce delivered nationally
  • Abel & Cole – organic produce and more delivered nationally
  • Oddbox – fighting food waste by supplying fruit and veg that is in surplus; not totally national but available in the St Albans district
Box Local. Photo: Box Local

4. Visit a Farm Shop or Farmers’ Market

Your local farm shop or Farmers’ Market may also be a good source for seasonal produce. Some farm shops grow some of their own produce so do make a bee-line for this produce when you can. Others have reciprocal arrangements with other growers, which is a great way to increase the diversity of produce. Farm shops are generally very happy to talk about their produce so don’t be afraid to have a chat if you aren’t able to see the information you need. 

Carpenter’s Farm Shop, Sandridge. Photo: Sustainable St Albans

5. Get some #GrowYourOwn inspiration

The other option and by far the best for the planet, is to grow your own fruit and vegetables. Every summer, there is a programme of Open Food Gardens across St Albans district where local residents open up their gardens to show others how they are growing their own food. They give you a lovely afternoon out and are a great place to start where you can see what’s possible in all sorts of spaces. 

6. Start with a few salad leaves

As many of the Open Food Gardens show, you don’t need lots of space to get started with growing your own fruit and veg. A window box is great for growing salad leaves – one of the worst offenders for excessive plastic packaging and often brought in from overseas. Even a miniature fruit tree will be more than happy in a large pot as long as it is watered regularly. 

A small garden can still have room for vegetables and they don’t need to be ugly, or even parcelled off in a specific plot. Varieties of beans and peas are as beautiful in flower as any decorative plant and striking purple kale can hold its own in any border as well as being delicious and nutritious!  

“You don’t need lots of space to get started with growing your own.”

7. Try some community growing

There are schemes around St Albans district where you can pitch in and have a share in the spoils such as Food Smiles (where you can decide how much you pay and / or work for your seasonal produce) as well as community growing schemes like Grow Community Sopwell, St Michaels or Bernards Heath and Incredible Edible.

8. Go for an allotment

If you think you might progress to your own allotment then get your name on a waiting list for one near to your home. You will need to commit a fair bit of time to get the best out of a plot but your neighbours will be a mine of useful information, potentially seedlings and even physical help if you are lucky! 

Find out about allotments in your local area. Local sites include:

Veg box. Photo: Sustainable St Albans

Enjoy the seasons

There is a need to change the way we think about food, by getting more connected with the seasons and how things are grown. It will soon feel odd to be eating cucumber in December or asparagus in September. It will take some getting used to, but is not without its joys: as items come back into season after a long break you can celebrate and relish them as we used to. 

Remember every change you make is progress towards a more sustainable future, and don’t forget to spread the word.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Juliet’s inspiring advice to choose the “Eat Seeasonal” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on driving electric by Lucy Freeborn.

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