Seasonal Eating During the Dark Days of a Michigan Winter

Did you know you can still eat local Michigan produce even on a 6-degree, snowy February day? It’s true–there are greens galore, root vegetables for days, and apples aplenty. Not to mention all the frozen or preserved foods that are available. How are we growing greens with a foot of snow on the ground? Growers use greenhouses or, more commonly, hoop houses. Less expensive than a green house, a hoop house is a passively heated structure where plants are grown in the soil and allow the growing season to be extended.

Why make the effort to eat seasonal produce?

  1. It tastes better.  Fruits and veggies start to lose their nutrients (a.k.a. their flavor) as soon as they are harvested. Local food doesn’t have to travel as far and thus can get to your table faster. Spinach from our hoop house will last two to three weeks in the refrigerator. Can the same be true for boxed greens from the store? Also, sugar is nature’s antifreeze. As temperatures drop, cold-hardy vegetables increase their sugar content to prevent ice crystals from forming and damaging the plants.
  2. It’s good for you. Those nutrients that are being lost post-harvest are what you need to stay healthy this winter. A University of California study showed that vegetables can lose 15-55% of vitamin C within a week. Kale, which grows well in the winter, is a powerhouse source of vitamin C, which can help fight off colds and reduce the duration of illness.
  3. It’s good for your local farmers. Winter is a slow time for your local farmers and buying produce now can help farmers get through the lean times. Many Farmers Markets are held year-round; check out this directory from Taste the Local Difference to find a farm market near you.
  4. It’s a fun way to expand your cooking skills. Have you ever cooked a rutabaga or celeriac? If not, now is your chance. Kale salad is a favorite winter go -to recipe. The trick is to massage the shredded kale with a little bit of olive oil, so it turns dark green and becomes easier to chew.

Curious to learn more about how to eat seasonally in the winter and even year-round? Check out this guide on what’s in season throughout the year in Michigan. Another great way to eat more local, seasonal food is to sign up for a subscription with a local farmer. Sometimes called a Community Supported Agriculture Program or a Farm Share, these programs connect consumers directly to farmers which makes it easy to get a box of the freshest produce each week.

Did you know that several Trinity Michigan hospitals have farms on their grounds? St Joe’s Ann Arbor, St Joe’s Oakland, and Mercy Health Muskegon all have farms that work to grow not only vegetables, but also a healthy community.

The Farm at St Joe’s Ann Arbor is 11 years old and has many programs that connect people, farmers and health. Learn more about our program here.

2021 Farm Share Get a weekly or bi-weekly box of local produce! Learn more here. Need financial assistance? Check out our Fair Share option.

Ypsi Area Online Market A virtual farmers market with pick-up options at the Farm or in downtown Ypsilanti. Start shopping here.

Nutrition Buddies: Virtual after -school cooking classes this spring with our resident physicians for 12-14 year olds struggling with food insecurity. Families receive two-seasons of the Farm Share for participating. Contact: for more info or to sign-up.

Looking for other options? Register today for the 2021 virtual CSA Fair and read this article by MSU Extension for Tips on Joining a CSA.

Why eat seasonally?

Hi! I’m Danielle, the Farm’s latest dietetic intern. I am currently enrolled in Eastern Michigan University’s Coordinated Program in Dietetics, where I concurrently take classes AND experience real world nutrition-focused practices through various internships. This semester I am concentrating on community nutrition and chose The Farm at St. Joe’s to be my specialty rotation – I am so excited to learn more about horticulture and our local food system! Here’s what I have to say about the seasonal changes and the benefits to eating seasonally:

The summer season has come to an end, and that means it’s time we bring out the long sleeves and gloves and rotate crops here at the Farm.

Seasonal changes in sunlight, precipitation, and temperature affect many aspects of life on this planet. In Michigan, the cooler autumn weather may disturb our sinuses or mood and lead to modifications in the clothes we wear. For the environment, however, the air becomes cold and dry causing soil to lose its moisture and plants to drop their leaves. Have you ever witnessed summer fade into fall? We can visually see that nature is at its peak when the greenery transforms into vibrant shades of yellow, orange, and red. This shift occurs as the days get shorter and leaves prepare for winter by halting their production of chlorophyll.1

I was able to see how a farm transitions from summer crops to fall/winter crops when I helped with removing the tomatoes from the hoop house and prepared planting beds for future fall and winter harvests. We said goodbye to the tall, tangled vines and deep roots of the tomato plants and harvested the last of the cherry tomatoes – until next year, Solanum Lycopersicon!

Fun fact: Tomatoes originated in the Andes Mountains of South America and were first cultivated by the Aztecs and Incas in 700 AD. The fruit arrived in the United States around the late 1700s and found its way into Louisiana kitchens by 1812. It did not grow to be popular nationwide until the early 20th century.2

Nutrition highlight: Tomatoes are rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, and an antioxidant called lycopene.3 Lycopene gives tomatoes their red color, and most importantly provides protection for your heart.4

Tip: Crushing and cooking tomatoes allows lycopene to be more easily absorbed into the body.3

I arrived at The Farm in the midst of the harvest season. I helped in harvesting the last of the tomatoes, the last of the peppers, and the remaining eggplants – all were stripped and removed from their soil beds. This process allows for other crops to be planted in replacement, it’s called crop rotation. “Crop rotation is the practice of planting different crops sequentially on the same plot of land to improve soil health, optimize nutrients in the soil, and combat pest and weed pressure.5

@thefarmatstjoes “Emergence! There were tomatoes here just days ago, but we’re moving toward fall and we’re excited to have greens on the way.”

As I watch the seasons change and I’ve been harvesting the ripest fruits – it has really given me a sense of what it means to eat seasonally. Seasonal food is when fruits and vegetables are naturally at their peak and harvested right at that time. These foods tend to be purchased and consumed closely after their harvest, when they are cheaper, more complex, and richer in flavor than out of season produce simply due to freshness and availability. The cool thing about eating seasonally is that you can gain key nutrients through a variety of foods. What this means is that instead of eating Florida oranges all-year-round to get your vitamin C, you can eat Michigan apples, acorn squash, red bell peppers and broccoli in the fall; beets and white potatoes in the winter; arugula, leafy greens, and sprouts in the spring; and sweet peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries in the summer! Neat, right? If you’d like to see what other foods are considered seasonal in Michigan, check out Cultivate Michigan.

Did you know Michigan produces more than 300 commodities, making us the state with the second most diverse agriculture industry in the nation? 6

Eating seasonally naturally helps you consume a variety of fruit and vegetables AND variation is akey dietary guideline. It allows for a broader intake of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, and ensures that you get all the nutrients you need while adding interest and excitement to meals.7, 8 Dietitians recommend eating a rainbow of foods regularly.

My favorite feature of seasonal foods are the fun festivities associated with them, especially at this time of year. Many of our famous fall activities here revolve around two of Michigan’s seasonally cultivated foods–apples and pumpkins–and I am so excited to enjoy the delectable items that are prepared using these fruits. That’s right! Apples and pumpkins are both considered fruits. Let’s take a deeper look into these nutritious treats:

Apples are one of the largest and most valuable fruits grown in Michigan,9 and are ranked among the top three fruits produced worldwide.10 Harvested between the months of August and October, they can be eaten fresh, sliced, canned, juiced, and sauced, and are great sources of fiber and vitamin C – with fresh, whole apples offering the most nutrients. For a delectable whole, baked apple recipe visit Tastes Better From Scratch.

Pumpkins are typically used for jack-o-lanterns this time of year.9 However, they are also a great source of nutrients such as antioxidants and beta-carotene (converted to vitamin A in the body). Harvested between the months of September and October, they can be eaten entirely – seeds and all, except their stalk. For a savory pumpkin chili, visit Chew Out Loud.

Buying local and seasonal fruits and vegetables not only benefits our health, it benefits our environment and local economy.  If you’re buying food that’s grown near where you live, you’re likely buying in-season produce. This is how seasonal eating habits correlate with local purchasing to support our farmers and environment. Our environment benefits through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when food travels fewer miles to get to your plate.11 Less food miles result in less pollution and cheaper produce! This also stimulates our local economy by generating jobs due to supply and demand. If you visit a local apple orchard or pumpkin patch this fall, be sure to stay safe, have fun, and rest assured knowing that you are helping our economy and environment continue to thrive!


1. Why Do Leaves Change Color? SciJinks. Accessed September 2020.

2. Pertruzzello M. Tomato. Accessed September 2020.

3. Vegetable of the month: Tomatoes. Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Published August 2018. Accessed September 2020.

4. Mozos I, Stoian D, Caraba A, et al. Lycopene and Vascular Health. Fron Parmacol. 2018; 9:521. Accessed October 2020.

5. Crop rotations. Rodale Institute. Accessed September 2020.

6. Michigan Ag Facts. Michigan Farm Bureau. Accessed October 2020.

7. Insel, P, Ross D, McMahon K, et al. Nutrition Guidelines and Assessment. In: Nutrition. 6th ed. Burlington, MA; 2016:28-44. Accessed October 2020.


9. Michigan Ag Facts and Figures. Accessed September 2020.

10. Apples. The Nutrition Source. Accessed September 2020.

11. Titze C. Let’s get seasonal! The Farm Project. Published June 22, 2018. Accessed October 2020.