4 Tips to Buy Local Produce

Spring is the perfect time of year to clean out your diet by filling up on seasonal foods. "Not only does fresh, local product taste better," says Lisa Tartamella Kimmel, RD, a dietician at Yale University, "it also earns top honors for nutritional value since it's generally harvested at its peak ripeness." Think about it this way: would you rather eat a strawberry that has traveled by truck and plane from Mexico in frigid February or one that you picked at a nearby farm in the heart of summer?

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Eating food that travels a minimal distance to reach your kitchen has global benefits as well. "Buying locally and in season saves the environment from the wear and tear of shipping foods thousands of miles, and it directly supports local farmers instead of dealing with a middle man," says Kimmel. Another perk? Locally grown food is often less expensive due to lower transportation and production costs.

Here's how to give your fridge a seasonal makeover.

Go Online

The United States has a number of different climate zones, so what's in season when will vary depending on your exact locale. In late May, lettuce and tomatoes are at their peak in Connecticut, but in Colorado you'll find fresh rhubarb and asparagus.

Consult your computer before planning your menu to find out what's ripe in your neck of the woods. Sustainable Table's website (sustainabletable.org) allows consumers to search for in-season produce by state and season. Find out where to shop using Local Harvest's zip code search (localharvest.org). Visit this site to seek out farmers' markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) opportunities that provide weekly produce packages from nearby farms.

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Make Friends

Whether it's a farmer, grocer or butcher, take the time to speak with the person selling your food. Claire Thomas, the host of ABC's "Food for Thought" and founder of the Kitchy Kitchen blog, says, "When you develop these relationships you know where your food comes from." Ask the provider what is freshest that week or if the produce is organic. You can also think outside the market and get personal with a non-commercial grower. "There is a joke that if you become friends with a gardener, you'll get zucchini left in your mailbox," says Thomas. Offer to bake your green thumb a zucchini loaf with her bounty, and she'll be sure to share.

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