Smart Shopping at Local Farmers' Markets
There are over 3,000 farmers’ markets currently operating in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, generating in excess of $1 billion annually. There are a number of differences between buying from a chain supermarket and your local farmers’ market, not the least of which is your family’s health.
The Produce Marketing Association has boiled down the benefits of eating more fresh fruits and vegetables to the reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity, and some types of cancer, including cancer of the stomach, esophagus, and lung.
Yes, but…won’t we benefit from the same nutrients when eating the produce sold at chain supermarkets? Not exactly, says Lola O’Rourke, a registered dietician in Seattle and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She states that fruits and vegetables contain their highest levels of nutrients when harvested fully ripe and eaten soon afterwards.
Unfortunately, much of the produce available at national chains is often picked green, treated with chemicals to retard ripening, dipped in wax and transported across the country by truck. Consequently, much of the produce is weeks old by the time you purchase it in your grocery store.
In contrast, locally grown food travels only a short distance from farm to local store to table. It’s harvested from the ground or plucked from trees and bushes 24 hours before consumers purchase it, and brought to market in reusable containers.
Farmers’ market produce is so fresh, Lola O’Rourke says, “the wonderful flavor of truly fresh produce tempts people to eat more of it, and that’s a real health benefit for virtually everyone.”
It is very easy to recognize how much better this local, fresh food tastes. Unlike the fruits and vegetables produced by the big commercial growers, farmers’ market vendors choose varieties for their flavor and pick them at the peak of ripeness.
The benefits of farmers’ markets are far-reaching. From helping to preserve farmland and the rural landscape, local farmers' markets help ensure the continued economic viability of the small family farm. The growth of agribusiness has a devastating impact on people and places, while local farmers support clean, environmentally sensitive farming practices. In addition, this conserves energy, helps maintain biodiversity in food plants, and contributes to local and regional prosperity.
It’s important to choose your purchases wisely at your local farmers’ market. Here are some tips to making the smartest choices when shopping at your local farmers' market.
***Buy only the amount you can use in a short period of time to avoid spoilage and waste.
***Look for produce that is free from unusual odors or colors and signs of spoilage such as mold spots.
***Handle produce gently to prevent bruising and the formation of bacteria in the bruised areas.
***Remember that buying ripe produce is always the best option. Peaches, cantaloupe and nectarines are examples of fruits that may soften during storage, but they will not continue to ripen.
***When buying cut produce, keep it cold as you travel home with it. Put it in a cooler with ice if traveling a distance.
***Wash your hands with soap and water before handling produce, or any other food for that matter.
***Wash all fruits and vegetables with cool running water right before eating. Washing with soap or detergent is not recommended.
***Scrub the outside of melons with a brush and running water before cutting with a knife since bacteria can be transferred to the inside of the melon by the knife.
***Use clean utensils and cutting boards when peeling or cutting up produce. Wash your cutting boards with soap and water, rinse and sanitize between uses. You can use a solution of one teaspoon bleach per quart of water to sanitize effectively.
***Cut away bruised parts before eating your fresh produce, and remove the outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage to remove any contaminants.
***Keep freshly cut produce cold by placing the serving containers over ice. Perishable food should spend no more than two hours at room temperature.
***Store produce in containers that are free from excess liquid.
***Refrigerate all cut produce and use as quickly as possible, preferably within a few days.
So there you have it, some great tips for getting the most out of your local farmers' market. Eat fresh! Eat local! Eat healthy!