Warm weather has finally arrived here in Iowa and locally grown produce is starting to become available. Summer is my favorite time of year to cook because my favorite ingredients like tomatoes, fresh green beans and bell peppers are in season. When fruits and vegetables are in season they are often available at a lower price and fresh-picked produce tastes great.
I grow some of my favorites myself like tomatoes, herbs and peppers in pots on my patio. I shop for other items at the farmers’ market or even my local grocery store. I find that grocery stores in my area carry much more local produce than they did in the past. Here in Iowa we often see locally grown tomatoes, sweet corn, hot and sweet peppers and salad greens in the produce aisle in the summer.
Check out our video about eating seasonally and let us know what you’re looking forward to growing or eating this summer!
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.
Early in July I head to my favorite ‘you-pick’ blueberry farm and enjoy those delicious fresh berries! I don’t have the time or space to grow my own berries, so I’m happy others grow them for us to pick. Grocery stores are running specials of under $2.00 a pint; but, at one pick-your-own operation in SE Iowa, they were $2 a quart if you did the picking or $4 a quart if you bought them in the box. I get satisfaction from picking them myself, and knowing they were produced locally is well worth the price I pay.
Blueberries are one of the top fruits nutritionally and are great to eat fresh, or they can be frozen. You do need to rinse them off, but experts disagree whether that needs to be done before or after you freeze them. Frozen berries are great in muffins, salads, smoothies, on cereal, etc. The Spend Smart. Eat Smart. web site has directions for freezing fruits and vegetables.
Look for other pick-your-own opportunities. If you participate in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects, you may have the option of picking your own as well.
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.