Eat seasonal foods in Minnesota

In seasonally-challenged Minnesota, it’s hard to know what foods are fresh and in season. After all, ripe and ready tomatoes gather on store shelves even when the entire state is covered in a thick enamel of permafrost. But eating local and in-season foods not only tastes better; it’s better for your health and the environment.

The facts about industrial farms are overwhelming. For example, foods imported from industrial farms produce as much as 650 times the amount of C02 than foods produced at local, small farms. And large industrial farms reaching all ends of the country and towns in between also take another serious toll on the environment: Pesticides, herbicides, and animal waste pollute area waters, causing an increase in what the EPA has determined to be water bodies in “critical” condition.

Of course, in recent years, a spotlight has been shed on these serious issues, prompting more and more people to want to eat local, organic, and in-season.

But for the many farm-foreigners among us, there’s a slight problem. And it begins with this: How do you even know what’s in season? Raise your little reluctant, soil-free hand if you have no idea what asparagus looks like growing from the ground. Or even what time of year it sprouts. Don’t worry–you’re not alone.

Thankfully, Pride of the Prairie, a program with the Land Stewardship Project and the University of Minnesota, is here to help those folks among us differentiate between parsley and a parsnip–or at least know when they’re fresh, in season, and best to eat. They’ve produced a seasonal foods guide to help consumers far out from the farm understand what foods are naturally grown in every season, and why it’s best for you, your family, and the local community to eat these foods instead of factory-produced foods that grow through man-made means, and whose growing season never ends due to inorganic and energy-sucking greenhouses.

So next time you’re at the supermarket and you see those plump tomatoes grinning at you with their little fat faces, know this: In Minnesota, those big and juicy tomatoes aren’t in season until summer. If you see them in the winter, they probably came from a land far away. And even if they’re labeled organic, it took a lot of greenhouse gases just to get their round bodies on Minnesota shelves.

So hold your horses and enjoy the lovely foods spring offers in Minnesota, from asparagus to rhubarb, from arugula to cilantro, from strawberries to kale. That’s right. These lovely fruits and veggies sprout right in your backyard from spring onward. After all, eating tomatoes in December is sort of like eating Girl Scout cookies in July. It doesn’t make sense; and darn it if it doesn’t taste nearly as good, either. (If you don’t believe me, just try eating a Thin Mint in the summer.)

The seasonal foods guide comes in a PDF format, too, making it easy to print out for your supermarket trips. For additional info on where to find fresh and local foods, be sure to check out the Minnesota Project, which helps you plan seasonal menus, connect with local farmers, and find the freshest, Minnesota-grown ingredients. And if you want to learn more about a growing movement to ensure sustainable practices in farming, be sure to look into Slow Food Minnesota, an organization dedicated to promoting farms, artisans, and retailers that deliver healthful and environmentally friendly foods throughout Minnesota.

And if you’re looking for healthy recipes you can easily whip up at home, a wonderful and additional resource is the Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, which features tips, restaurant guides, and 100 recipes that celebrate local, sustainable foods. Not only will you find that in-season foods taste better, but you’ll also be pleased as punch at every meal knowing it’s better for your health and the environment, too.

Minnesota Energy Challenge – save energy all year long

The Twin Cities are offering up plenty of ways to celebrate Earth Day: River clean-up events; sales; free coffee at Common Roots. But if you’re looking to make an impact every day, the Minnesota Energy Challenge offers a fun and easy way to give nature a nod today and save money and energy all year long.

The new-ish Minnesota Energy Challenge web site makes saving energy simple. Each action is calculated and organized into simple and easily attainable categories. There’s even a “free” section, showcasing all of the green things renters and homeowners can do to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint, things like washing clothes in cold water; recycling a little or a lot; take a five-minute shower, or sign up for Xcel’s Saver Switch Program.

In fact, depending on what you sign on for and commit to doing, it’s easy to save hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs and reduce your CO2 emissions by thousands (if not tens of thousands) of pounds. Thousands! Mother Earth will be very happy, indeed.

Residential dishwashers are responsible for about 3 percent of all of the phosphorous in the state’s waters. And lawn fertilizers with phosphorous play an even bigger role in disrupting area freshwater ecosystems, contributing to nearly 40 percent of the state’s water bodies to be designated as “impaired.” But there are easy steps you can take to avoid phosphorous in your dish-washing detergents and lawn fertilizers and reverse phosphorous pollution.

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