One of my favorite things about summer is going to my local farmers market for delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables. I grow some of my own tomatoes and herbs on my patio, but I don’t have the space to do much more than that. The farmers market has a huge variety and the food is as fresh as if I had grown it myself. Shopping at the farmers market is different than the grocery store so here are some tips for readers who may not have given it a try before or found it to be overwhelming.
Bring your own bag. The farmers will appreciate it and having a bag that can go on your shoulder will help keep your hands free. I use a backpack!
Get to know your local farmers. They will help you choose the best they have to offer and will have good suggestions for cooking and preparing the fruits and veggies as well.
Beware the “health halo”. Many vendors sell delicious baked goods like donuts and pies. My market has vendors that sell fabulous international foods like Salvadoran Pupusas and Vietnamese spring rolls. Yum! Indulging in these treats can be a fun part of going to the farmers market, but keep in mind that just because they are sold at the farmers market doesn’t mean they are as healthy as the fruits and veggies at the neighboring vendors.
Try something new! My farmers market sells some fruits and vegetables that I can’t find at the grocery store. I try a few new things each summer like different types of tomatoes, beets, greens and squash.
Learn about what forms of payment are accepted. Many farmers accept food assistance EBT as well as WIC benefits. You may see a sign at the farmer’s booth indicating they accept these forms of payment. In Iowa the signs will look like this.
Enjoy your farmers market this summer and share your finds with us on Facebook!
Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.
Fresh watermelon, cherries, and blueberries…sure signs that summer is here. My 22 month old daughter loves eating these summer fruits. I’m glad she likes them but oh boy does she create a sticky mess when she eats them; watermelon juice running down her chin, her hands sticky with cherries. The blueberries aren’t usually too messy, except when she drops one in her seat and sits on it!
I like purchasing fruits and vegetables that are in season because they have the best flavor and are usually the least expensive. My husband really likes fresh asparagus and would like to eat it year-round. However, I won’t buy it fresh unless it is spring when asparagus is in season. When fruits and vegetables aren’t in season, consider buying them canned or frozen for a better buy.
In the summer in Iowa, I enjoy going to farmers markets to look for seasonal and locally grown fruits and vegetables. At the farmers market I can talk with the grower about their produce and get their recommendations for selecting and preparing the produce.
Many fruits and vegetables are available at a low cost from the grocery store year-round like bananas, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. To find out when different fruits and vegetables are in season, check out the list on Produce for Better Health.
Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.
Did you know there are more than 212 farmers markets located in communities across the state with direct access to Iowa’s nutritious, affordable and delicious products?
To find a market in your area, as well as days and times of operation, check the Iowa Department of Agriculture’s Iowa Farmers Market Directory. It has a full listing of markets found across the state. (If you are in a another state, just Google “farmers market locations.”)
If you are a low-income senior, you can get coupons for fresh produce through the Iowa Area Agencies on Aging. If you are on WIC, ask about coupons at your local agency.
In-season vegetables for July are: beets, bok choy, cabbage, chard, cucumber, new potatoes, snap beans, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.
Consumers used to ask me about products labeled for specific nutritional attributes such as sodium free, trans fat free and rich in omega 3’s. Now, they are asking if there is a nutritional advantage of organic foods.
The nutritional value of food depends on the soil in which it was grown, cultivar of the plant, growing conditions (weather), degree of maturity at harvest, handling after harvest, and time spent in transport or storage to name a few. Research suggests organic food production does not produce nutritionally superior food. It is more likely that ‘locally grown’ food may have a nutritional advantage because it isn’t picked prior to maturity, transported, and stored–factors that decrease nutritional value. Bottom line: organic and locally grown are not the same; the primary advantage of organic food production is not nutritional value, but environmental friendliness.
Does this influence my grocery shopping habits? Sure does! I am not inclined to purchase organic foods, which are typically more expensive, for better nutritional value. Instead, I look for nutritious foods by visiting my local farmer’s market where I can support the local economy, and being physically active in my garden.