One of the issues that always confounds local-foods aficionados is citrus fruit. Here in the U.S., unless you live in one of three states (Florida, California, or Texas), you're out of luck on the citrus front.
But "out of luck" is a problem. See, we Americans love citrus. Oranges, for example, are the third-most consumed fresh fruit in this country, just behind bananas and apples. We eat an average of 12.6 pounds of them every year. We suck down another 74 pounds' worth in the form of juice. No other juice even comes close to that.
Lemons and limes are nearly as crucial--more so, for some people. We use them constantly to add tang our favorite recipes. Regardless of whether we're making poundcake or ceviche (as an aside, our growing Hispanic population consumes citrus at a higher rate than average), we love their zippy flavor.
And then there are tangerines (which are gaining popularity, thanks to their easy-peel qualities) and grapefruits (which are sadly losing popularity, because most Americans won't bother with any food item they can't pick up and bite into), and all the other crossbreeds and varieties. We take them for granted. Few would think to name a citrus fruit as their favorite, but almost all of us love them.
So what's a locavore to do? Me, I choose the middle road. I am loath to give up citrus altogether (except during the Eat Local Challenge proper, in order to remind myself of what's really part of my foodshed and what isn't). But I am equally opposed to buying citrus willy-nilly from wherever it is grown. Have you noticed that we're getting South African oranges in the grocery stores lately? It would be hard to run up more food miles than that. It's totally egregious.
I've developed a policy I'm comfortable with: regionalism. I live in Georgia, so I buy citrus fruit primarily from Florida. Sometimes the closest lemons and limes are from Mexico, and that's okay in a pinch. But I absolutely, categorically refuse to buy citrus fruit from overseas, and in almost all cases, I also eschew anything that comes from California.
By extension, that means I treat fresh oranges, tangerines, and grapefruits as the seasonal treats they're meant to be. Remember how, in the past, children used to receive oranges in their Christmas stockings? That's because they were a seasonal luxury. For a locavore, I believe they still should be.
Florida citrus fruits appear in a glorious, yet predictable order, according to their breed. In November, the stunning, much-anticipated Fall-Glo tangerines appear, soon followed by the Navel and Hamlin oranges. The white grapefruits seem to ripen before the red ones. Right now, as I write this, it's the beginning of Honey tangerine season--a last springy hurrah before berry-filled summer.
There is an order to things. By buying in season, you get the very best of what your closest citrus area has to offer. California's season is different from Florida's, so if you are in the western part of the States, your season and varieties will differ from mine.
Because so few of us live in citrus-producing areas, we should eat citrus fruits mindfully. Eat them now and again, certainly--after suffering hurricanes, diseases, and freezes, our country's sustainable and organic citrus growers could really use our support! But pay attention. There's a big difference between a little bit of interstate commerce and a freightliner from the other side of the world.
Jamie S. lives in rural Georgia and writes 10 Signs Like This, a blog that's part gardening journal, part cookbook, part sustainable lifestyle, and part short attention span.