A how-to guide to eating for the season

Michigan agriculture makes seasonal eating easy.

People choose to eat seasonally for a variety of reasons, including to support local farmers, to celebrate the changing seasons, to save money, and to eat food that is at peak flavor. Adopting a lifestyle of local, seasonal eating is easy in Michigan due to the wide variety of foods grown in the state throughout the year. Local milk, eggs, meat, mushrooms, and dry beans are available year round and can be combined with seasonal fruits and vegetables to make delicious meals.

Winter is the time for hearty greens and storage crops. Season extension technology such as hoophouses or high tunnels produce spinach, arugula, salad greens and fresh herbs even in the coldest months of the year. Michigan farmers store apples, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, beets, and turnips. Take advantage of these winter ingredients to make comfort foods like winter stew, confetti soup, and sautéed greens to keep you warm all season long.

Spring brings new flavors, including asparagus, snap peas, rhubarb, and radishes arriving in late April and May. Storage crops fade away, but hearty greens remain abundant throughout the spring season. Capture the flavors of spring with spring vegetable sauté, spinach salad with eggs, and refrigerated pickled spring vegetables.

Summer is a time of great variety and abundance for Michigan produce. Nearly all fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs are available during the summer, though some are available for a limited time only. Fruits in particular have a limited availability. Enjoy strawberries first, followed by cherries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, and later peaches, melons, plums and pears. The short list of out-of-season produce includes winter squash, spinach, Brussel sprouts, rutabaga, parsnips and pumpkins. Mix it up with new recipes like summer chili, zucchini coleslaw or try summer staples such as ratatouille.

Fall is synonymous with “harvest season” and consequently offers a cornucopia of produce. While some of the summer vegetables begin to disappear, winter squash, spinach, Brussel sprouts, rutabaga, parsnips and pumpkins take center stage. Greens of all kinds are also abundant in fall, and taste even sweeter after a frost. Leeks, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and cabbage hang on well into November. Put fall produce to good use in squash-apple casserole, pasta with beans and greens, or fall vegetable salad.

This handy guide from the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems can be used to find out what produce is in season during each month of the year in Michigan. It is color-coded to show when foods are available fresh from the field, from storage, or from season extension. To find seasonal local produce near you, visit the Michigan Farmers Market Association’s Find a Farmers Market website and LocalHarvest.

To connect with a local food system educator from Michigan State University Extension’s Community Food Systems work team, call 1-888-678-3464. For more recipe ideas, visit MSU Extension’s Michigan Fresh Pinterest board, full of recipes sorted by ingredient to assist with meal planning around seasonal produce.

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