Visit a farmers’ market, and you can expect to pick from produce that’s grown locally, and recently–the whole point of the markets is, after all, to revolve with seasonal availability. That means, though, that the wares are unpredictable–you might find blueberries one week, and just apples the next.
A new app, called the Seasonal Food Guide, thoroughly outlines the seasonality of produce state-by-state, so you can know what to expect when you plan a trip to the farmers’ market—and more importantly, so you can tell what fruits and vegetables are in peak season and grown locally when you shop at a standard grocery store.
Developed by GRACE Communications Foundation, an organization advocating for alternative, sustainable solutions to the current food system, the app aggregates data, culled from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the USDA, on over 140 types of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and herbs. For all 50 states, seasonality is measured in half-month increments; a search for what’s in season in early August in New York, for instance, will change to reflect what’s in season later in the month at the halfway point.
“It’s now one of the most comprehensive seasonal guides,” Urvashi Rangan, chief science advisor with GRACE, tells Fast Company. In addition to the availability data–you can set reminders for when your favorite produce comes into season–the app links users through to more in-depth resources about the produce. “You can really dig down and get some history on the item–something we call ‘factual nibbles,’ which are just some interesting tidbits. We feature recipes and information on how best to buy and store each different variety,” Rangan says.
In developing the Seasonal Food Guide, the GRACE team is aiming to drive home the importance of shopping both local and in-season. “Buying according to local availability really allows people to support their local economy, which is hard to do in food,” Rangan says. Buying from smaller, local outlets or farmers markets has as much as four times the economic benefit for your town as buying from a larger chain or big-box store does. But even should you choose to make your purchases at the latter, ensuring you’re selecting only items in peak season ups the chance that they will have been sourced from nearby–cutting down the environmental footprint of your purchase, and supporting the local farmer who grew the product.
The Seasonal Food Guide is, in a sense, the consumer-facing branch of the effort to use mobile platforms to connect local farmers with local stores. In Maine, entrepreneur David Stone recently launched Forager, a platform that digitizes interactions between local farmers (around 100 have signed up) and retailers; WhatsGood, similarly, is an app that connects retailers and wholesalers with what is freshly grown in the region.
Launching during National Farmer’s Market Week, the app, Rangan says, “is a celebration of these kinds of local relationships, and it optimizes people’s ability to shop at farmers’ markets and supermarkets, keeping in mind the understanding of what is grown locally and what is available.” There’s also the simple fact, she adds, that food bought at peak seasonality just tastes so much better.