Whether you’re a passionate at-home cook or an experienced professional chef, choosing the highest-quality ingredients can have a big impact on the success of your final dish. One way to connect with flavorful ingredients is to explore the concept of seasonal eating.
By connecting with local farms and following the rhythm of the seasons, you can enjoy delicious meals as well as a renewed connection to your local community.
And fortunately for you, The Chef’s Garden makes it easier than ever to start exploring seasonal eating whether you are a home cook or chef!
What Is Seasonal Eating?
Seasonal eating involves choosing ingredients based on the time of year they are grown and harvested, so you can enjoy peak flavor and freshness. That means savoring those juicy heirloom tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers in the summer while diving into frost-sweetened parsnips and carrots in the winter.
To get started with seasonal eating, one of the first steps is connecting with a local farmer, like Farmer Lee Jones.
“One of the most frequently asked questions is, ‘What’s your favorite vegetable?’” Farmer Lee Jones explains. “My answer always is, ‘What season is it?’”
Passionate farmers like Farmer Lee Jones can help you understand why ingredient availability changes with the seasons, and how you can appreciate food best in the timeframe it’s grown. Equipped with this knowledge, it’s hard not to be inspired by these farmers’ enthusiasm for seasonal eating.
The Benefits of Seasonal Eating
Once you dive into this journey of seasonal eating, it won’t be long before you get a glimpse of the benefits it offers.
Enjoy Superior Flavor
First, there’s flavor. Since this food is harvested at the peak of its freshness, it often tastes better.
Let’s look at tomatoes, for example. If you purchase a tomato during an Ohio winter, know that it was likely grown hundreds of miles away. Since these tomatoes have to withstand the perils of shipping, they are often picked green and then artificially ripened using a gaseous hormone called ethylene. Even if this tomato arrives red and shiny, one bite will probably expose its mealy texture and lack of flavor.
If you’re well-versed in seasonal eating, you’ll know that summer and early fall is the season for tomatoes. Purchase an heirloom Cherokee Purple tomato in August, and you’ll enjoy a fruit that’s juicy, rich, and even a bit smoky.
While the two are both tomatoes, the differences are remarkable.
Connect with Your Food and Community
Another benefit of seasonal eating is the opportunity to form a more intimate relationship with your food as you consume it.
“Part of what I love about the connection with The Chef's Garden is being able to bring in that mindful eating component,” says Dr. Amy Sapola, the Director of Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden. “Taking that time to slow down, take a breath, and have an appreciation for what you're eating – the beautiful colors, the nutrients, the people who grew the food, and the people who prepared the food.”
Seasonal eating can also help you form relationships with local growers. Not only can this allow you to keep your dollars supporting your local economy and community members, but it can also help you gain knowledge that only local growers can offer. (For example, a farmer can help you decide which type of baby green will go best with a beet salad!)
Explore a More Sustainable Way of Eating
One final benefit is environmental sustainability. By growing crops when they naturally thrive, farmers can decrease inputs such as water, herbicides, and pesticides. Not only does this help the environment, but it also helps the farmers’ pockets.
Furthermore, eating seasonally and supporting local farmers can decrease the energy outputs associated with transporting food – a central tenet in the practice of sustainable food production.
The Chef’s Garden Difference
Along with their focus on seasonal eating, a few things set The Chef’s Garden apart from other farms.
A Focus on Sustainable Farming Methods
While many consumers don’t realize it, there are hundreds of different ways to produce a head of lettuce or a bunch of beets. And those different production methods can have a big impact on the taste and nutrition of the final product.
As Farmer Lee Jones puts it, “A carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot.”
That’s why it’s important for both consumers and future chefs to explore different farming methods, whether on their own through independent research or via a guided program like Escoffier’s Farm to Table Experience. This experience introduces culinary school students to a variety of different types of farms – from dairy farms to livestock farms to produce farms – so they can better understand how production practices affect the final product.
The Chef’s Garden’s mantra – healthy soil equals healthy plants equals healthy people – illustrates the farm’s goal of improving human health by first improving the soil.
To do this, they utilize regenerative farming techniques. Rather than continually removing crops and mining the soil of vital minerals, they boost the soil by applying biologically-rich compost and growing cover crops. For example, by planting a crop of peas and then incorporating it into their fields, the farmers are able to enrich the soil with nitrogen and other nutrients.
In turn, crops are healthier and better able to fend off pests and diseases as well as compete with weeds. This means the farm can forgo applications of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. If pests become problematic, The Chef’s Garden practices integrated pest management. So rather than spraying insecticides, they release beneficial insects that attack the unwelcome pests.
By focusing on soil health, The Chef’s Garden aims to produce more nutrient-dense food for its consumers.
“We have an on-site lab that is doing nutrient density testing on our vegetables,” Dr. Sapola says. “I'm able to take some of that data and then translate that to the consumer.”
Agricultural production methods aren’t the only aspects that impact nutrient density; you also need to consider when produce was harvested and how it was delivered. Sapola says that food loses nutrients over time, so eating fruits and vegetables right after they were harvested will provide the most nutrition.
This all relates back to seasonal eating – consuming what’s available at certain times of the year – as well as sourcing produce from local farms.
Get Started with Seasonal Eating
Whether you’re a home cook, culinary student, or professional chef, practicing seasonal eating can benefit both your enjoyment of food and your health.
“I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for the culinary students coming out of Escoffier and any of the culinary schools to really make a connection for themselves personally to know where the food’s coming from,” says Jones. “But also to communicate that out, because the consumer is interested in that, and they want to know all of those things. It can add so much value to the experience for the end consumer to be able to know.”
To start exploring seasonal ingredients yourself in your home kitchen, you can order a vegetable box from The Chef’s Garden through Farmer Jones Farm. The Eat The Rainbow is filled with a rotating array of diverse colorful vegetables that provide a hefty dose of beneficial nutrients. Or if you are a chef you can choose ingredients to add to your menus through chefs-garden.com.
Once you experience the joys and flavor that come with seasonal eating, don’t be surprised if you find yourself hooked!