New Seasonal Food Guide app aims to help ease the search for local & seasonal food in US

Seasonal Food Guide app
Screen capture GRACE

It's National Farmers Market Week, and this new free app can help you learn when and where your favorite local produce will be available and in peak flavor.

Eating mostly locally-grown food, which usually also means eating seasonally, is a laudable goal, and one that can be challenging for our modern mindset, which usually expects to be able to buy almost any kind of fresh produce every day of the year, regardless of the season. We've become accustomed in the Northern Hemisphere to buying ripe tomatoes in January, when they're six months out of season for us (even when they taste flat and flavorless), so to switch completely over to a local seasonal diet is out of the question for many. However, we can make an effort to eat as much fresh local produce when it's available locally, which not only helps us increase our fresh fruit and veggie consumption, but also helps local growers by increasing demand.

Why do I love local seasonal produce? Let me count the ways...

First, eating fresh produce when it's perfectly ripe and has traveled a very short time and distance is a completely different experience than just eating some food because you're hungry. It's more flavorful because it's ripe, it's less bruised or handled because it's local, and you can often taste it before you buy it, so you know what you're getting. It just tastes better.

Second, an increased demand for local food can support a more diverse local economy, with local farms, urban garden plots, CSAs, and backyard market gardens able to not only feed more people, but to also make a sustainable living while doing it.

Third, most locally grown produce has a much smaller footprint than mass-produced food, thanks to its shorter transport route and potentially fewer fossil fuel inputs. Of course, with modern heating, cooling, and lighting technology, we're rapidly becoming able to grow anything anywhere with enough power, so the lower carbon footprint claim may not be accurate for all local foods in all locations (you could probably grow local organic bananas in a lighted heated greenhouse in northern Montana, but at what external cost?), and certain economies of scale and pricing for big ag can skew both the input and margin numbers away from favoring some local foods.

Fourth, during peak harvest times, an abundance of fresh produce is usually available, which generally means lower cost, and often quantities of produce labeled 'seconds' (slightly blemished fruits or veggies) can be had for a steep discount, which can then be either consumed immediately, or preserved (frozen, canned, dried) for later in the year. And these ripe vegetables and fruits are often not only at the peak of flavor, but the peak of nutrition as well, so buying and 'putting up' food seasonally is a frugal old-school way of ensuring a healthy year-round diet.

Fifth, and a little on the woo-woo side, I believe that eating more seasonally and locally can help us gain a stronger connection to the natural world, and to the rhythms of the sun and the soil and the water and the changing seasons, and it also offers a great opportunity to better acquaint ourselves with the people and places that grow our foods.

One way to make sure you're staying in the loop for local produce, especially if you're not a gardener and don't know what ripens when, is to [wait for it] just go to the farmers market or farm stands yourself and ask what's good and what's coming ripe soon. However, there are often regional and local harvest calendars (try checking with your local Cooperative Extension Office or gardening club) that can be used to guide your local produce buying efforts. But another way, a more modern app-ified approach, puts a seasonal food guide right in your pocket, with coverage of all 50 US states just a few taps away.

A new app from GRACE Communications Foundation (GRACE), the aptly named Seasonal Food Guide, is available for both Android and iOS, as well as on the web, and it includes information about more than 140 common types of produce. The app is free, and users select their state and the desired month to see a list of everything that is normally available in that region during that month, along with a basic availability calendar, and links to recipes and other information about that food. Users can also search directly for a specific food to see when its harvest time is, which could come in handy if you don't want to miss out on a particular favorite.

Never waste time in the produce section again! With info on 140+ fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and herbs, the Seasonal Food Guide App is the most comprehensive digital almanac of seasonal, local food available.

The app also allows users to set shopping reminders for their desired favorites so they don't miss out, and uses data from state agriculture departments and extension offices to ensure accuracy down to half-month increments, because a lot can happen in two weeks, and some items have a brief harvest window. In addition to helping individuals and families get the freshest local food in season, the app would also lend itself well to chefs and restaurant owners who want to increase their local offerings.

"Italians have always looked to their local farmers for product. They think with the seasons and so they eat with the seasons. Bravo to the GRACE Communications Foundation team for giving us all the resource to think and eat like an Italian." - Mario Batali, American chef and restaurateur

See the web version here, or download the iOS or Android apps here.