You’re driving down the street and notice the tents, people milling about, and maybe even some music playing.  You slow down, take a closer look, and realize…it’s Farmers Market season!  While some farmers markets are open year-round, summer is the perfect time of year to visit, shop, and get to know your local farmers!  It is also the perfect time to create your own “farm-to-table” experience!  You may find produce you’ve never seen or even heard of before.  The farmers may offer a tip that makes preparing/cooking easier and more delicious!   And you may discover a greater love for fruits and vegetables!

The farm-to-table experience can be a simple one – and obviously quite rewarding.  Not only are the foods from a farmers market more likely to taste and literally BE fresh, the produce is usually picked closer to peak ripeness rather than too early (which is usually the case when foods must travel to grocery stores).  This means greater nutrient density for YOU!  More sunshine, water, and soil mean more of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients we discussed last week!

Let’s look at some basic tips from the farmers market shopper AND the farmers market vendors, so you “know before you go!”  You can also check websites or any social media pages for specific markets’ rules and tips.  The “Farmers Markets” page on Local Harvest is a great place to start!

What is in season? 

Check out the Seasonal Food Guide to get a better idea of what fruits and veggies may be available.  Farmers markets offer what is fresh locally.  Knowing what’s in season can help with meal planning, expectations in general, and even serve as inspiration for your family to choose a new food item to try each week!  A few fruits and veggies currently in season include: a variety of great greens like kale and spinach, radiant red fruits like cherries and raspberries, and summer squash!

Have a flexible meal plan! 

We already know that having a meal plan is helpful to stay “on track” with balanced meals throughout the week.  Having a meal plan based on seasonal ingredients at the farmers market keeps our expectations in check.  The flexible part comes in handy when farmers have run out of a specific food, or it’s not quite as fresh in your area anymore.  TIP!  Ask a few of the farmers/vendors for replacement ideas.  For example, you may have planned a meal with spinach, but they’re out.  Yet, as you ask around, you hear of some beautiful, fresh kale that would work perfectly.  Try that instead!

Know how to pick the best!

Ever picked up a watermelon at the store only to find it has passed its peak ripeness?  Or grabbed a bag of avocados to make guacamole that evening and discovered they’re at least a week out from perfect ripeness to make it?  Choosing produce can be tricky, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.  And honestly, shopping at a farmers market may be the most helpful opportunity to learn!  Farmers are going to know their produce, and they want to show off their produce.  Ask them how to pick out which watermelon or zucchini or raspberries best fit with your desires and meal plan.

Another fun way to support a local farm, get lots of fresh produce, AND create that farm-to-table experience is to participate in a “Community Supported Agriculture.”  “CSA” opportunities are available all over the country, are seasonal, and allow you to bring home lots of color and flavor, but usually from one specific farm.  When opting in to a CSA, you can choose how often you get a “box” from the farm, what kind of food items you receive (some even offer meats, eggs, and other home grown items, in addition to produce), and where you pick up your box of goodies!  There are many ways to get involved with a CSA.  Check with your HR department, as some businesses have a coordinated CSA for your specific company and location.  And of course, here’s a link to the “CSA” locator page on Local Harvest.

Whether you’re getting fruits and vegetables from a farmers market, a CSA, the grocery, a local fruit stand, or even your own backyard… remember keep it fresh and full, go for color, choose variety, and ask questions!  As a society, we have a tendency to make meals quite the social event.  There is no reason we can’t do the same for the whole process, starting with where our food comes from, how it gets to our table, and even how we learn to enjoy it!

A FINAL TIP:

It is quite common to end up with an abundance of certain fruits and vegetables.  Or maybe you notice a big difference in the seasonal option of certain produce and would like to have that at your fingertips all year.  Summer is also a fun time to learn how to preserve your favorites, whether via canning, freezing, or even dehydrating them!  Again, a great question to ask your local farmer, as they may have some tips to keep it simple and tasty!

NATIONAL EAT YOUR VEGGIES DAY IS  JUNE 17!

Learn more about incorporating veggies into your meals and snacks here.