If you think you need expensive and exotic vegetables and fruits or extraordinary superfoods to be healthy, then you are wrong.
Seasonal vegetables and fruits bought locally are a brilliant source of not only delicious taste, but also vitamins, micro elements, freshness and health. And Spring is a perfect time to introduce more vegetables and fruits to your diet. I wanted to prepare a list for myself of vegetables and fruits according to the season, but I thought it will be a great idea for a blog post, so I prepared a vegetable and fruit calendar for you. Availability of all vegetables and fruits in supermarkets all year round made me lose track a bit when it comes to their seasonality. As I currently live in the UK, I chose this country as my fruit and vegetable base. But I encourage you to prepare your own vegetable and fruit calendar for the country you live in.
We have access to fresh vegetables and fruit all year round. Obviously, if you look at the labels lots of these veggies and fruits are grown thousands of miles away from UK. It’s because some of them do not grow in UK at all, like tropical fruits and veggies, others does grow but in different season, like tomatoes in January. But imported vegetables and fruits have one big drawback – in order to survive, they are sprayed with pesticides, which cannot be fully removed, even by washing and scrubbing the plant. This is not the case with seasonal fruit and vegetables, as they are usually grown on nearby farms, so we can be sure that they are fresh, and even if they are sprayed, to a much lesser extent. In addition, fruit and vegetables from abroad are harvested not fully ripe (so that the banana comes to us yellow, it is picked when it is still green), so they are not fully developed with vitamins and minerals. This takes away their health benefits and makes them less valuable for our body. My friend who lives i Malawi told me once, that bananas that we eat here in UK have absolutely different taste that the one that grow until ripen in Malawi. It’s like completely different fruit. You can easily experience that eating juicy strawberry from your garden in the middle of Summer, and large and beautiful but absolutely tasteless strawberry bought in the supermarket in the middle of Winter.
It’s also worth knowing that vegetables and fruits begin to lose their nutritional value at the time of harvesting and larger amounts of bacteria responsible for spoilage begin to appear. So by eating them as quickly as possible since harvesting, we gain more benefits for our body. Also imported fruits and veggies are more expensive than seasonal ones. They need to be transported many miles before they reach to your local shop.
Transporting such fruit and vegetables leaves behind a huge carbon footprint and a multitude of other pollutants. I’m not saying that we should suddenly stop eating exotic fruits or imported vegetables if we like them. I love vegetables myself and I like to eat them all year round, and it would be difficult for me to only eat root vegetables out of season. However, if we would like to introduce more seasonality into our diet, it is a good idea to start from buying vegetables and fruits in season. A great idea in my opinion is also buying vegetables and fruits from local farmers – such vegetables will not only be much healthier but also cheaper, and their cultivation and sale more environmentally friendly (if you’d like to know more about the difference between supermarket veggies and the one from sustainable farms, take a look at my interview with one of our local farmers).
Lastly it’s worth mentioning that seasonal vegetables and fruits are simply much tastier. It’s much nicer to enjoy the taste of strawberries on a sunny Summer day, when they are juicy, full of flavour and sweet, than to spoil your experience by buying an expensive small plastic box of strawberries that taste like nothing.
Very often the simplest solutions are the best, so if you want to make a little revolution in your vegetable world this Spring, start by downloading the calendar I have prepared (you’ll find it on the bottom of this post below the photos). Keep it on your phone, for easy access when you go shopping, or print it and stick to your fridge.
Ever since we started travelling around Scotland, I was very curious to see how people live in tiny villages or on farms in the middle of nowhere. How is it when your life is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, from work 9 to 5, with a completely different rhythm. The rhythm of nature. I also regret that I delayed my decision so long to stop buying vegetables and fruits in the supermarket and start buying local organic vegetables. But better late than never. Of course, in the off-season, in the winter I am a bit forced to buy vegetables in a supermarket, but I am very happy that I have the opportunity to buy fresh, local products from farmers who work with passion and commitment to provide the best quality and most nutritious fruit and vegetables. This is how I found Berwick Wood Produce farm – I was looking for a local vegetable supplier for whom growing vegetables is not only a way to earn money. Mhairi and her family have a woodland farm near Hatton of Fintray in Scotland. And I was looking for words to introduce them, but I think Mhairi on their Instagram page @berwickwoodproduce did it the best:
“I’m Mhairi and I am incredibly lucky to manage my family woodland farm near Hatton of Fintray. I do this with the help of my husband Aus and our quickly growing up offspring (when they are around). We have spent the last few years learning about small scale regenerative farming and how to make a living from local food. We are passionate about sustainability: ecologically, socially and economically. We want farms to be able to farm in ways that increase biodiversity and leave nutrients in the soil for the next generations. We believe local communities have the right to access good food and that skills in food production need not to be lost. Farmers should make a fair wage for their work and do so by selling locally. As I am a “veg snob” having lived nearly exclusively off my own veg for the last 10 years I started with a no till market garden which sells veg boxes, to food hubs and to small independent shops and cafes.With our wood being thinned we will be able to introduce livestock ready to add more regeneration to this land.“
To satisfy my curiosity a bit, and I hope yours as well, I asked Mhairi a few questions about what the running of the farm looks like, what her day looks like, and how organic vegetables from sustainable crops differ from those, we usually buy in the supermarket.
I hope this will encourage you to delve into this topic and look for a similar farm in your area. It would be great if we could support local farmers who love nature, while at the same time making our life and health better with nutritious and fresh vegetables and fruits.
So grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy reading.
Hello Mhairi, could you tell me how your farming adventure started? Did you grow up on a farm?
I grew up in with small scale farming. My grandfather had a croft on the West coast of Scotland that looked onto Ben Nevis. He had a herd of Highland cows that can be seen in movies such as “The Highlander”, “Braveheart” and “Rob Roy”. My dad was an agricultural economist and later took over the croft from his dad. Though I always loved being on the land in 1998 I decided to come to Aberdeen and become an occupational therapist. I worked for both the NHS and in schools until a series of bone tumours meant I needed to stop working. To help out my family financially I started growing food again and reignited my love for working the land. Working outside and eating better food really helped my physical recovery and when the opportunity to grow on a larger scale arose I knew that is what I wanted to do.
Has farming been viewed as more of a business for you, or a lifestyle choice? Some combination of both?
Though I do need to make a livelihood, for me farming is very much a lifestyle. I am passionate about looking after the land for future generations and for wildlife. I wish to provide fresh nutritious food to my local community and to contribute to a better food system in this country.
What was the most challenging at the beginning? And what’s the most challenging right now?
The biggest challenges have been to get the infrastructure on the farm. The land was originally part of a large estate, then broken down into a smaller parcel of land which was planted into a woodland in 1990. It had no buildings, water, fencing, power or vehicular access so we had to start with all that while trying to get growing. It was also hard to find markets for the veg that we grew as most people and cafes/restaurants could not initially see the value of our veg over wholesale or supermarket. As more people tried local veg or have become interested in where their food comes from the demand for our produce is increasing and the challenge now is to grow enough to meet the best supply and demand. This means that we are always trying to collect as much data about best varieties, dates for planting / harvesting and yields while keeping all the planting etc.. going.
What crops do you grow?
This year on the farm we are growing 45 different types of vegetables, 15 different types of herbs and hope to get a small crop from our apples trees and fruit bushes (they have only been in a few years). We also look after the woodland and this year we will thin out some of the sitka spruce and plant some willow, alder and hazel trees to increase diversity and make sure the trees left can grow better.
Which part of farming is the most satisfying for you?
There are lots of parts of the farm that I find satisfying but mostly I love to see the ecosystems on the farm. I love to see all the wildlife that is there from the toads and dragonflies on the pond to the buzzards and heron that fly over our heads. This week I have been watching the worms heat up, the beetles mate and the ladybirds on the young trees.
Could you describe how your typical day look like in a growing season?
In the growing season my typical day begins about 5am or at first light as the days get shorter. I start by watering the polytunnels and checking the market garden plot. It is then usually either a harvesting day or a planting/ seeding day. On a harvesting day we have a list of what is to be harvested and it is all done as early as possible as that is when the leaves are most turgid and tasty. On seeding/planting days each bed that is to be planted is weeded and raked. Either plants that have already been sown into trays are then transplanted into the ground or seeds are sown directly into the ground using our push along seeder. Once the seeds/plants are in the ground they sometimes need protection such as fleeces or nets. We also spend time cleaning and organising tools and keeping records up to date. I try to finish work by 6pm though often have paperwork to do after my tea. I also try to find time everyday just to observe the environment both from an enjoyment point of view and also to take note of my surroundings.
So your day is full of different jobs that need to be done, do you have your favourite farm task?
I have 3 favourite tasks on the farm. Firstly I love planning the year ahead especially new things we might want to try to plant, creating new micro environments or learning new ways of doing things. Secondly I love my quiet time in the propagation area seeding trays of veg and finally I love harvesting (and eating!!) a really successful crop.
I guess farming is not only enjoyable and satisfying work, but you also need to deal with many factors that are beyond your control:weeds, insects, diseases, weather devastating to the crop you have cared for months. How do you deal with fail? What helps you to keep going even though sometimes it might look like everything is against you?
Fingers crossed we have never had a complete crop fail. Our most basic philosophy is good soil and strong plants do well. If a veg does not do as well as we hoped to take notes and see what we can change. Sometimes a different way of planting, timings, variety can make a difference but occasionally we might decide not to do that type of veg anymore. Equally we take notes of what goes well. Weeds can get me down sometimes but our no dig beds have helped to minimise them. Weeds are really helpful indicators of your soil so can be really useful for letting you know what is going on. To prevent disease we try to keep our soils well looked after and plants strong. As of yet we have not had any diseases. Pests are always seen as a challenge but recently I have changed the way I view “pests”. I am spending a lot of time learning about the lifecycles of these “pest” and viewing them more as food for the other things which are part of our farm ecosystem. Creating a balance of “pests” and “predators” leads to a much healthier system. We choose not to use any chemicals on our plants even ones that organic farms can use as we hope that this will give the best chance for our ecosystem to balance. On the whole this has worked though slugs and flea beetles can at times be an issue!! When things go wrong I find it best to let myself feel a bit sad then pick myself up, learn what you can and focus on the things that are going right.
From your perspective, what people should be aware of when they shop for vegetables?
When people are shopping for veg they should always be aware of what is in season. Using glass or tunnels it is possible to extend seasons slightly or grow things under cover that you could not grow outdoors but veg or fruit that is been grown out of season is always less tasty and nutritious. Different veg also has different shelf life time. Leaves need to be picked and cooled quickly and kept in the fridge where as onions, potatoes, swedes or other root crops can last longer just kept somewhere dry or darker. For this reason you are more likely to get a good swede in a supermarket then good kale or spinach. Veg that is a bit past its best can still be used in soups, stews or fermented or pickled rather then wasted.
What are the differences between vegetables from supermarket and the one grown on your farm?Many people thinks that veg is a veg and the only difference is that the one from supermarket are nicely washed and packed in foil, which for many people is much more convenient.
There are two main differences between our veg and that bought in a supermarket. The first is providence. With our veg you can know exactly where it came from right back to the seed, how it was grown and when it was harvested. Secondly there is growing practices. We spend a lot of time learning about the best ways to grow our veg, the most suitable varieties and how to create the right soils to optimise nutrition. A lot of supermarket veg is grown for high yield, speed and prices which means that growing best practices can not be observed.
And they are often sprayed with pesticides, and travel thousands of miles before they get to the shop. While you can buy fresh, healthy local vegetables, that may be a bit dirty from the soil, but so much healthier and nutritious.What can consumers do to support small farms more actively?
There are a lot of things that consumers can do which are free if price is an issue for them. They can share social media posts of small producers, they can support campaigns to keep food standard high or they can start to cook more seasonally. If they can buy more locally they can write reviews to promote small producers products that they have enjoyed. They can try occasionally buying from farmers markets or food hubs rather then from the supermarkets. They can engage with their small producers. Usually small producers are passionate about what they do and are happy to talk about what they do. Hopefully as restrictions ease farms will also be able to have open days again.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who would like to become a farmer, what would it be?
My one piece of advice for someone who would like to start a farm is to decide what farm you want to start. If you want to start a agri-ecological farm then join one of the small association which promote these such as The land workers alliance, the organic growers alliance, the nature friendly farming association or community supported agricultural. These associations all have mentorships, placements, peer to peer learning and loads of support and information for those interested in farming for a better planet/ food system.
Thank you Mhairi that you found some time to answer my questions. Even though season of harvesting and delivering veggies didn’t started yet, it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do on the farm. That’s another thing that need to be mention – farmers work hard all year round 🙂
I hope you enjoyed reading this post and maybe it encouraged you to make some changes to your diet this Spring. Rather than buying fruit and vegetables at a supermarket, make a research to find a local farmer who grows delicious, healthy and organic vegetables. So you will be able to cook healthy and nutritious meals for yourself and your family. In the meantime, you can take a look at a few recipes I made using vegetables from Berwick Wood Produce.
We are so used to prepare certain foods in a certain way, don’t you feel a bit bored with your cooking choices? When it comes to veggies we usually prepare them in a same way – cooked, pickled or raw. Typically we use raw so called “salad veggies” like: cucumber, cabbage, lettuce, bell peppers or tomatoes. Others like: broccoli, cauliflower and root veggies usually land in the soups, stews or casseroles. But what if we would look out of the veggie comfort zone and see if we can eat raw these vegetables that we usually cook?
Curious? Lets go then!
But before we get to the point lets have a look at some nutritional facts.
Apart from vitamins and minerals obvious for everyone, what else vegetables have that other foods don’t?
The answer isfiber. According to food science dietary fiber is essential for healthy body.
But what it is exactly and what it does?
Dietary fiber is the parts of plants that your body cannot absorb or digest. Normally all the carbs, fats and proteins are processed in your body and transformed to energy. Fiber travels thorough your digestive system mostly intact, and simply leaves you body. It also contains different nutrients and minerals but have different function. Scientists divided fiber into two types:
soluble fiber – this type of fiber dissolves in water making gel-like consistency. They bypass the digestion of the small intestine and are easily fermented by the microflora of the large intestine. Soluble fiber helps to lower glucose and cholesterol levels.
insoluble fiber on the other hand helps to move all of that you’ve digested to smoothly get to the point where you get rid of it. So it’s really helpful when you have constipation issues.
So what are the benefits of fibre?
Ability to decrease body weight or attenuate weight gain – soluble fiber, when fermented in the large intestine produces hormones generate feeling of satiety. So Foods that contain a lot of fiber make you feel full and satisfied for longer.
Dietary fiber may significantly decrease energy intake.
Dietary fiber intake increases, the intake of simple carbohydrates tends to decrease. Soluble fibre can slow down the absorption of sugar and improve blood sugar levels.
Fiber increases the weight and size of your stool and softens it so it’s easier to pass. When you increase your fiber intake also increase the amount of water you drink, so the fiber can absorb it properly.
A high-fiber diet may lower your risk of developing hemorrhoids and small pouches in your colon (diverticular disease).
That’s some of the good things that fiber does for our body. Although researchers still don’t know everything about what fiber does, many of them claims that there’s is a strong relationship between fiber and coronary diseases and certain types of cancer. There’s still a lot to discover.
So finally let see what veggies you didn’t know (or maybe you already knew that and it’s just me?) you can eat raw.
Rich in nutrients, full of fibre. Great low carb alternative for grains and legumes. Recently very popular as a replacement for everything (I mean popular in low carb and ketogenic communities). Can be eaten raw, and taste delicious for examle with avocado dip, joghurt and garlic sauce or tomato salsa. My favourite option – caulislaw – coleslaw like salad made with raw cauliflower instead of cabbage. Yummy!
Did you know that courgette is actually botanically clacified as a fruit not a vegetable? Wild courgettes are very bitter and should not be eaten raw. This bitterness comes from cucurbitacins, which may be poisonous for humans and animals. Store bought courgettes are safe, and can safely be eaten raw. Although if you bite into courgette and it tastes extremely unpleasant and bitter, it’s best to spit it out and dispose of the entire fruit to avoid the risk of cucurbitacin toxicity. Don’t let this discourage you from eating courgettes. It’s very unlikely that you’ll buy very bitter courgette in the shop. The best is always buy from proven stores or farmers markets. You can use courgette for variety of ways: it’s great in salads, you can use it as a low carb noodles, as a wrap or simply eat with a dip as a snack. The sky is the limit!
Oh I love beets, but all my live I’ve been eating them cooked or pickled. If you like beets, try them raw. According to a 2016 study in the Journal of Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science, pickled beets have less nutrients than raw ones. You can eat raw beets in many different ways: thinly slices, served as carpaccio, grathed or chopped in salads, blended in fruit and vegetable smoothies, you can juice them with other fruits (like apples) and drink. Beetroots comes also in other colours than red, they are yellow and white. Try my raw beetroot recipes: raw beets and avocado salad, raw beets, broad beans and feta salad, golden beets carpaccio.
Surprised? I was as well. But actually you can eat them raw as cabbage. They are quite firm and not everyone will enjoy their taste, especially if you’re used to eat them roasted or cooked. Wasn’t my favourite raw veg of choice, but definitely I could consider adding raw Brussels sprouts to all sorts of salads. The best way is to slice them very thinly, you can use a mandoline. With all sorts of dressings will be great addition to sandwiches or side salad for meat dishes. Definitely give it a try to find out if you like it or not.
Just the same as cauliflower, broccoli can easily be eaten raw. Small tendersteam broccolies can be delicious in all sorts of salads, but regular large broccoli finely chopped or divided into small florets can make crunchy, beautiful green salad. Just let yourself experiment.
Did you know you can use parsley root just the same as you use carrot? Add raw parsley root to smoothies, salads or make thin slices using a peeler and prepare small rolls adding some goat cheese for example.
Exactly the same as parsley root – instead of popping them into a broth or stew prepare juicy spring salad. You can grate celery root and prepare all sorts of different side salads. It goes great with: apple, raisins, cranberries, sweetcorn, pineapple, hard cheese, Greek yogurt or mayonnaise. Perfect with white meat or fish dishes.
I love collard greens slightly sauted with butter and garlic, but as othe cabbage they can also be eaten raw. Although similar to kale they need a lot of chewing. To make it less difficult to eat you can chop them finely, drizzle with olive oil and some salt and massage rubbing the toughness away. After this “treatment” you can add them to your salads and happily eat without feeling like a cow in the pasture 😉 Because of their large leaves, they will be also a great wrap if do not enjoy traditional flour wraps.
When you got to this point and you think: I wish I could eat more veggies, but they make me feel bloated, I have cramps and gases! Okey dokey – that may happen if your body is not used to eating raw foods (I mean raw vegetables) and whole grains. In this case start adding high fiber foods gradually and observe which ones makes you feel better which ones make digestive issues. That’s the easiest way – observing how your body reacts to certain foods if you feel like your body doesn’t like certain veg, you feel discomfort or simply don’t enjoy the taste, just grab a different one. Vegetable world is wide and for sure you’ll find couple veggies you really like. Or maybe you don’t like it’s cooked version, and the raw one will taste much much better? Become an explorer in a vegetable world this Spring and find your favourite tastes.
And one more thing before I let you dive into your veggie drawer: always wash your vegetables thoroughly before you eat them raw! Choose veggies from trusted source – your local shop or farmer. Personally I hate buying veggies packed in plastic, that travelled thousands kilometres before they landed in my bag, but it’s obvious that buying sustainable and local isn’t always possible. So choose wisely, but also do not resign from buying vegetables, just because you can buy them only in the supermarket. Work with what you have, the best you can 🙂