“Eat local:” a phrase we hear a lot these days, meant to encourage us to eat healthy, eat seasonally, but it doesn’t always make practical sense – sure, the farmer’s markets are fun, but most of us shop at grocery stores that import produce such as fruits year-round. We can get strawberries from Mexico in December at the super market, so why make the effort to stand out in a hot, humid field in Noblesville picking your own fresh, local, strawberries in mid-June?
Well, there’s an easy answer to that: they taste better!
The grocery-store strawberries can improve with the season too, but for the most part these have a faint hint of strawberry taste and aroma around a juicy, textural bit of berry that is white in the middle and pleasant enough, but not the same experience as eating a freshly picked strawberry from Spencer farms (7177 East 161st Street in Noblesville), or one of the other local farms. These that my kids picked in the second week of June are almost another type of fruit altogether. Red almost to the core, they give off a strong scent – not the vaguely chemical, sickly sweet “strawberry scent” they put on childhood dolls of yore, but the real strawberry smell, one that we all know but we’ve maybe forgotten in this age of year-round imported produce.
Why aren’t these the strawberries we taste all year round? Well, simply put, they don’t travel well. The grocery store strawberries are picked at the optimal time for travel. The big fruit companies want someone to be able to buy them a week or two after picking and still not have mush at the bottom of the package. When we pick out at the farm, we’re picking berries at their optimal ripeness – their shelf life is not very long. But since they came to our house within hours of picking instead of weeks, we do have a precious week of eating bowls full of the freshest, most delicious strawberries I’ve ever tasted.
And therein lies the other great reasons for eating local – the memories, the taste and smell memories we’re creating in our children’s brains. In a world where the consumer has grown increasingly distanced from the true origins of the products we buy and consume, it’s a special treat indeed and something to relish when we get to expose our kids to “The Real Thing,” in this case, the experience of picking a fat, perfectly ripe strawberry off the plant and eating it right there in the field, instead of picking out a plastic container of them in the store and scanning it at the checkout register. Hopefully we’re creating memories as sweet as those red berries.
Sadly, Strawberry picking season in Indiana is rapidly coming to a close. But the raspberry season runs throughout most of the rest of June, and we can look for blueberries in July and August.