When the weather starts to turn warmer, Farmer’s Markets start popping up around in area neighborhoods This is great news because eating locally-grown, in-season foods is not only good for you but also good for the environment and the community. The spring planting season allows farmers to travel to your area to sell their goods. Often you can find organic produce, grass-fed beef and free-range chickens and eggs which are healthier for you. The farmers are local and use less gas and emissions which is healthier for the planet.
The following are what I look for at the farmer’s market:
By shopping at the local farmer’s market, you can get the freshest produce that is allowed to ripen on the tree or vine instead of being picked weeks before and trucked to the grocery store. This is a great way to increase your overall health. The apple you find at the farmer’s market may have been picked only a few days ago. The only way to get it any fresher is to grow it yourself. Farmers grow foods according to the seasons. Each season offers different options for the freshest produce.
Spring is an exciting time to visit the farmer’s market. Not only have we made it through the winter and back into fresh fruits and vegetables, but we also have access to special produce that often only occurs when the weather moves from cold to warm.
My favorite springtime fruit hat is readily available at the farmer’s markets are strawberries. These sweet, juicy berries are high in vitamin C and phytonutrients which have many benefits for your body. You can add fresh strawberries to a salad, put them in a smoothie or just eat them plain.
Although considered a vegetable, rhubarb is often combines with strawberreies and used in sweet dishes like pies and crisps. Rhubarb is naturally very tart and is typically sweetened with a lot of sugar. Rhubarb doesn’t have to only be for dessert. There are many savory recipes that utilize this tangy veggie. Roasting rhubarb with honey is a great way to top a salad. Click here for a great tasting recipe
Asparagus is another springtime vegetable full of fiber and nutrients. It is very versatile and can be steamed, roasted or grilled which brings out a wonderful nutty flavor.
Summer is the height of the growing season and the variety of produce increases at the farmer’s market. Summer is the time to really stock up on the freshest, most flavorful fruits and vegetables that can be used in every meal of the day.
Summer is when all of the varieties of stone fruit ripen to perfection. Stone fruits are named due the the “stone” or pit found in the fruit. These include peaches, tangerines, apricots, plums and cherries. Not only can you eat them by themselves but these fruits can sweeten up any dish, such as salads or salsas. This recipe can be eaten with fresh cucumber slices or celery sticks or used as a topping for fish or chicken.
Canteloup, honeydew and watermelon are just a few of the many varieties of melons that are available in the summer. Look beyond the common melons and look for rare and heirloom varieties which are excellent sources of nutrients. The pink or red flesh of watermelon has the highest content of the antioxidant lycopene-the highest per serving of any other fruit or vegetable. Most often eaten raw, watermelon can also be pickled, candied, fermented or made into a syrup, and its sprouted seeds are a nutty tasting, protein-rich snack. Click here for instructions on how to sprout watermelon seeds.
Corn on the cob is a staple of backyard barbecues. Who doesn’t love the sweet, creamy side drizzled with butter and sprinkled with salt? There are many ways to prepare corn on the cob including boiling, steaming, baking and grilling. Be adventurous and add some lime or orange zest and paprika to add more flavor or cut the corn off the cob and add to a summer salad such as this recipe.
Other summer fruits and vegetables
There are plenty of other fruits and vegetables available at the farmer’s market in the summer. Look for cucumbers, zucchini, greens, radishes, green beans, peas, bell peppers, pears and who can’t forget the ultimate summer fruit, the tomato.
As the weather starts to become cooler, hardier fruits and vegetables are harvested and readily available at the farmer’s markets. Fall is the season for apples, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, pumpkins (not just for jack-o’-lanterns), root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips and rutabagas and onions, sweet potatoes and potatoes and winter squash like butternut, acorn and spaghetti squashes.
Stock up on root vegetables, onions, pumpkins, potatoes and winter squashes because these can last up to a few months if stored in a cool dark place. Use these when the weather turns cold for warming soups or stews.
Fresh local honey is both healthy and delicious. Many beekeepers now combine their honey with dozens of different flavors, giving your taste buds a delicious treat. Not only can you buy honey but you can find different products made from the beeswax such as candles. Local honey is great for sweetening homemade iced tea or whisking into salad dressings. Raw honey has many health benefits as well. It is a good source of antioxidants, has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, can soothe a sore throat among others. Keep in mind that it isn’t safe to give honey to children younger than 12 months old due to a dangerous toxin which causes botulism.
Eggs fresh from the farm are a nutritious powerhouse that contains many nutrients and are high in protein. Although found all year in the grocery store, summer is when the hens get the best opportunity to eat a diet that gives them the best quality eggs. Free-range hens (those allowed out in the pasture) love to eat greens and bugs which makes their eggs taste better. Eggs are not just for breakfast. Try a frittata for lunch or dinner or crack a couple in some cauliflower fried rice like in this recipe.
Farmer’s markets are excellent places to find grass-fed and free-range beef, pork and chicken. Talk to the farmer to make sure the animals are humanely raised. Grass-fed beef is leaner with less saturated fat and more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Free-range chickens, as mentioned above, are allowed to eat greens and bugs which is their natural food which adds more flavor. It is not easy to find pastured pork at local super markets but you may be able to find some at the farmer’s market. Pastured pigs receive feed from a farmer in addition to the food they naturally root for themselves. Grass-fed and pasture-raised animals allow for a better tasting product with a deeper, richer or more complex flavor than conventionally raised meat.
Not only can you find the freshest produce at the farmer’s market, you can also find fresh cut flowers. Fresh flowers can brighten any table and allows you to bring a little nature inside to enjoy. Flowers bought at the farmer’s market are generally picked one or two days ahead of time and may last longer than flowers found at flower shops or grocery stores. Fresh sunflowers, daisies, lilies, conflowers, black-eyed Susans and zinias can last for up to a week. A bouquet of statuesque gladiolas make a statement when walking into any room. As the season’s change, so does the wide array of flowers to choose from.
These are just some of the wonderful things you can find a the farmer’s market. Depending on your location and time of year, you can find other treasures from homemade breads and cheeses to decorative items from local artisans. Farmer’s markets allow you to support your local farmer and your community, know where your food is grown to ensure the freshest food at the peak of ripeness but also to help the environment and most of all, your health.
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About Sue Smith
Sue Smith, MS LDN, is a licensed dietitian nutritionist with a passion for healing through proper diet, nutrition and lifestyle. She earned a Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Previously, she received a B.S. from Benedictine University in Lisle, IL with a major in biology and a minor in secondary education. She has worked at several clinics doing nutritional counseling throughout the western suburbs of Chicago.