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Healthy Eating from the Farm

How To Be Part of a Rare Food Relationship

Farmers markets showcase the edible gems of the local community. Of course they provide access to a rich, fresh selection of foods to fill our kitchen and our plates. But farmers markets do even more good. If you take a moment to consider the benefits of these local gathering places ornamented with veggies, fruits, meats, cheeses and flowers, you can’t help but get the picture that the food extravaganza in your town is more than just colorful commerce.

First, and perhaps most importantly, farmers markets provide a remarkably rare opportunity for farmers and consumers to develop a relationship. Farmers meet the mouths that they feed, and consumers see where their corn is picked, what dairy farm their goat cheese comes from, and what goes into (and doesn’t go into) the foods they are toting home. It’s a wonderful way to develop a connection with our food and our local farmers while simultaneously providing them with direct remuneration for their dedication.

Furthermore, finding the freshest foods of the season can help us branch out when it comes to eating. Spontaneous buys based solely on availability and interest are not only allowed at farmers markets – they are part of the experience. Haven’t had okra for a while? Bell peppers missing from your plate? Been years since you made a blueberry cobbler? Use the season’s foods to take advantage of new ways of eating and to revisit old friends. And, farmers markets help you eat safely and organically. Looking for foods without antibiotics or growth hormones? Seek out organic farms, and ask smaller farmers about their growing philosophy. Some may not have the paperwork for organic certification, but they may still abide by a no-pesticide or no-antibiotic rules.

Finally, since one of the most important principles of eating well is to put a rainbow of hues on your plate, farmers markets are rife with color. One visit can be the in-road to eating your way through the color spectrum and radically enhancing your health. Start with wild blueberries, add some luscious deep greens, berries, or squash, and round out your bag with a few bright yellow and red tomatoes, and presto, you’ve got a rainbow in your bag.

Ready to go to market? Here are some ways to make it efficient and fruitful:

Set aside some time.
Don’t think of your trip as the same as popping in to the grocery store. You’ll want to browse the selection of wares, and you’ll need the patience to make your way through the crowds. Think of your visit as an event, where browsing, chatting, and enjoying the summer morning is part of the experience.

Timing is everything. 

While intuition says arrive early, about.com suggests that going early or late can mean you are market savvy. Early provides the best selection, while late can mean deals for items that farmers don’t want to tote home.

Comparison shop. 

It’s just Farmers Marketing 101 – browse the entire market first, then purchase. You’ll see many of the same foods showcased, and prices and quality always vary.

Where else can you look the person who grew your food in the eye and ask them anything you want to? Farmers are a wealth of information. They’ll help direct you to products you want, give you tips for your own garden, and often provide you with a sample. They probably also know a favorite recipe for the wares they are selling.

Bring your own.

Don’t forget to pack: You’ll need reusable bags and cash – preferably ones and fives, so sellers can go easy on the change.

Have a meal plan.

It’s easy to pick up lots of items that look great, but when you get home, it might be hard to develop a meal around raspberries and zucchini blossoms. Hard core marketers suggest a little advance planning. You can leave some wild cards for those spontaneous purchases.

Do some taste testing.

This neat tip from ivillage.com can only be done at the market: Buy a sampling of fruit, peppers, tomatoes, garlic or whatever you fancy from several vendors, then take them home for a taste test. You’ll know where to bee-line next week, and you’ll learn about the characteristics and a particular fruit or veggie – in other words, you’ll be on your way to being a farmers market pro.

 A Note on Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs

Helping yourself to the local bounty can be a major inspiration to be part of Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs are communities of individuals who pledge support to a farm by paying a set price to receive part of the farm’s bounty. As a shareholder, growers and consumers share the risks and benefits throughout the entire growing season, and take advantage of a weekly share of fresh seasonal foods for up to 25 weeks.

Find out more about CSAs and find a farm in your state or zip code. Part of a CSA this season? The Crisper Whisperer has great ideas for what to do with that box of wonders.

There’s More Online

At MyPyramid.com there are some practical tools to get the most out of the season’s riches. The MyPyramid Menu Planner will help assist you in your quest for health, and you can also search for a Farmers Market – their database contains 4,800 of the country’s markets.

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