Written by Joanna Kavanagh, BA in Geography
At OFN Ireland, we celebrate all things Irish. We are a not-for-profit, democratic and co-operatively owned entity that loves (and therefore trades) seasonal food.
We are more than a website; we are an ally and a community.
We help support local producers by providing an open-source online market for them to sell their goods. We offer flexibility in terms of shopfronts and fair, minimal pricing scales for our producers so to cut down on costs and maximise producer profit.
What we believe in is creating a fairer food system for all, based on local principles and community spirit. We’re all about transparency and honesty… that comes right down to showing consumers who is producing the food, where it is coming from, whether it is organic, fair trade, sustainable, vegan, free from or seasonal. We’re old fashioned. We love sustainability and eco-friendly practices.
The values we uphold are translated in the seasonal food we sell and producers we support.
What is Seasonal Food?
Seasonal food is food that is naturally occurring in any given country at a particular time. Multiple factors contribute to the growth of seasonal food; seasonality depends on weather patterns, soils and the amount of sunlight accessible to growing crops. Certain crops thrive in Ireland year-round (e.g. cabbage, cauliflowers), whereas others are unsuitable to our climate and cannot be grown at all (e.g. citrus fruits, bananas).
In Ireland, most of our common fruit and vegetables are sown in Irish springtime, grow in Irish summer, are harvested in autumn and ready for sale by winter. Consequently, Irish farmers are busy year-round. It is no surprise that we have an impressive agricultural reputation and world-renowned produce.
Ireland ‘has its own unique range of fruit and vegetables that can be grown within its own climate and this to a large degree has contributed to the evolution of our national food culture, as it has developed throughout history.’ (Bord Bia)
Why Choose Seasonal?
“All fruit and vegetables taste their best and are at their nutritious best when harvested fresh from the field close to where they were grown. Freshness is the single most important criteria for shoppers who primarily judge freshness through the physical appearance of the produce, including the produce display, when looking at the choices available on the shelves.”Bord Bia Irish Food Board
As highlighted by Bord Bia, food is best when it is locally produced and locally consumed.
“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.”~ Dalai Lama
All actions have consequences. The food we choose to eat has numerous impacts on various levels, from the more obvious personal effects on our health and wellbeing to the often unrealised societal, economic and environmental effects of our consumption.
In order to reduce our food miles (i.e. the distance between where our food is grown and where it is consumed) it is good practice to be alert when shopping. Look at food labels to see the place of origin and choose as local as possible.
Shopping in the supermarket landscape can become stressful and disorientating once we consider the realities and implications of our food choices. Regretfully, most of the food we find on supermarket shelves are imported goods, often wrapped in non-recyclable (and pointless!) plastic. What’s more, many are produced by unsustainable, unethical and environmentally harmful practices that we are blinded to.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) calculates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted (globally) each year. In the EU, an estimated 20% of the total food produced is lost or wasted, while 33 million people cannot afford a quality meal every second day (Food Safety, European Commission).
These hard-hitting facts are exemplary of how unsustainable our current food system is. We at OFN envision a brighter future of food systems based on the localisation of food production and consumption, the reduction of food miles and the increase in availability of ethically and sustainably produced goods.
We would love to say otherwise but the honest truth is most Irish people shop in large-scale supermarkets (see Fig.1 below ). These supermarkets are undeniably profit-driven. They base their business strategies around maximising sales above all other factors.
As Bord Bia emphasized, the physical appearance of produce is important to consumers. This is problematic as it leads to the standardisation of fruit and veg and the unnecessary overpackaging of produce (for branding and aesthetic reasons).
A bruised apple will not sell as well as a pristine one, nor will a naturally non-uniform carrot match up against a selectively bred or genetically modified super-carrot that is grown to be bigger and a brighter orange. Despite little difference in taste or nutritional value, many non-standard fruits and veg are rejected from the shelves and redirected into landfill (if not otherwise salvaged). This is before they even go to sale! As consumers, we aren’t even offered the wonky, weird but wonderful variations of fresh produce that occur naturally in our fields. Notwithstanding, the massive amount of edible produce that is withdrawn from shelves due to arbitrary ‘best-by’ dates.
Moreover, many large-scale supermarkets prefer to source their goods from large-scale producers/ farmers leaving little room for support mechanisms for small-medium scale producers to achieve a route to market. Moreover, large-scale farmers often use intensive farming practices to produce their wares. Intensive practices are deployed to maximise crop/milk/meat outputs and raise net margins. Factory farming, the planting of monocultures, the use of pesticides, herbicides (to deter crop infestation and disease) and artificial fertilisers (to increase growth) as well as the use of large, high-tech machinery all fall under the bracket of farm intensification. Such practices have benefits for producers in terms of increasing output and income. Yet, the ethical ambiguity (surrounding the environmental impact & animal welfare) and the profound negative externalities (incl. impacts on soil quality, acidification, eutrophication, destruction of habitats & loss of biodiversity) of these practices outweigh the economic benefits.
As modern-day consumer-citizens, who care deeply about the food we place on our plates, we understand that the convenient advantages of these food outlets do not offset the negative disadvantages that come hand in hand. We must not sacrifice our values for convenience or lack of existing infrastructure.
Here’s where OFN can help. We know, it’s best to shop directly from local producers at local farmer’s markets (OFN provides a virtual market for people to shop locally from the comfort and safety of their homes). By localising our food system, we can ensure that the food on offer is fresh, home-grown and seasonal, that it is made responsibly and ethically and that our hard-earned cash is going into well-deserving pockets.
We all buy things; everyone is a consumer. It’s what we buy and how we buy it that matters. That’s why we believe in connecting consumers with honest, hard-working, local, small-medium scale producers.
The positive spin-off effects of shrinking, or localising, our food systems are numerous. Consumers can gain peace of mind that their food is suitable (i.e. fresh & healthy). They can be ensured that it is Irish produce and enquire whether it is made ethically/sustainably (i.e. organic, fair trade, vegetarian/vegan).
By shopping locally, consumers can also build connections within their locality, making social ties, raising community spirit and improving the mental health of both parties. According to Dr Helena Norberg-Hodge (Founder of Local Futures (NGO) and director of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness), 10 times more conversations take place at farmer’s markets than they do in supermarkets. Therefore, the social benefits of shopping locally are immense. So too, are the economic benefits. By buying local food, one is choosing to support a farmer in their community, helping them achieve a liveable income and support their family. That farmer too can reinvest the money they earn into the Irish economy by purchasing local, Irish-made goods themselves. The more we as a country reduce the amount of unnecessarily imported goods, in preference of locally produced ones, the more we reduce the negative externalities of our consumption and increase our national gross domestic product (GDP).
With OFN, producers can easily amend their stock list and set up order cycles. Consumers buy only what they need and avoid the unwanted extras, such as the dreaded excess plastic packaging, that come hand in hand with supermarket shopping.
To recap, consumers looking for nutritious food for themselves and their families should consider three important things (1) where their food is coming from, (2) what time of year that particular fruit or veg is in season and (3) how that food was produced and is sold. To get the freshest, most nourishing food it is best to eat locally and seasonally. The positive spin-off effects of this simple change in consumption spread wider than health benefits to encompass social, environmental and economic prosperity.
Below we outline the Irish fruit and veg that are in season this October and continue to be so into the winter months.
What’s in Season?
Late Autumn into Winter
✓ Bramley Apples
✓ Brussel Sprouts
✓ Courgette *
✓ Cucumbers *
✓ French beans *
✓ Pak Choi
✓ Peas *
✓ Rhubarb *
✓ Runner beans *
*- coming out of season after October
(Source: Bord Bia seasonal calendar)
Keep an eye on our upcoming blogs for some tasty #LoveLocal #EatSeasonal recipes that you can follow to make the best out of the various (winter) fruit & veg listed above. 😊