Shopping the Farmers' Market

“The surest way to escape the Western diet is simply to depart the realm it rules: the supermarket, the convenience store, and the fast-food outlet. It is hard to eat badly from the farmers’ market, from a CSA box…or from your garden.”-- Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Let’s face it. The real reason that I go to the farmers’ market is to wear a sweet tank to show off my swollen biceps to all the suburban cougars. Thank you P90X! Eh, maybe that’s only partially true. But far be it from me to keep you from picking up members of the opposite sex at the local market. In fact, maybe it is a good place for that! The fact that they are purchasing their produce from local growers and are consciences of their health is incredibly sexy.

We are living in a day and age of large portions, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. How do we even know if we are eating real food? Isn’t it all just chemically made products that have longer shelf lives? Hello consumerism. Twinkies? Yummy…barf! Thankfully, the importance of moderation, coupled with exercise and a healthy diet, is beginning to move to the forefront of societal discussion.

So how does a local farmers’ market place into all of this? A Harvard study of 72,000 women, over two decades, showed that women, who followed a “prudent diet” consisting of foods on display at farmers markets, had a 28% lower risk of dying of heart disease. This should go without saying, but eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, for men and women alike, provides essential fibers, minerals and vitamins. Eating from the garden can also help keep blood pressure and cholesterol from climbing and lower the danger for developing diabetes. When shopping a farmers market, people are encouraged to cook and take control over what they eat.

Today’s post isn’t about a great new recipe or some of my favorite things, even though I love farmers’ markets! It is still summer, which means you have plenty of time to take advantage of your local market. There are so many amazing things to take advantage of while roaming the stands. Great produce. Great relationship. Great socializing. Great community. Here you’ll find some tips on how to shop a farmers’ market, things to keep in mind, and a little explanation on how eating from the ‘food color wheel’ can be a great first step in turning over a new leaf to healthy eating.

Whether you are a farmers’ market newbie or a seasoned veteran, here are a few tips to keep in mind while browsing the market:

  1. Buy something new: A farmers’ market is a great place to find new produce that you’ve never cooked with before. Don’t be afraid to pick something up and try something new – there are some great cookbooks or blogs that will have some fun recipe ideas.
  2. Be flexible: You may go to the market with a shopping list in mind, but sometimes they run out or a specific food isn’t yet in season. If you aren’t sure of what to substitute, don’t be afraid to ask the farmer for help.
  3. Taste before you buy: Most growers love to talk about their product and will be glad to provide you with a little tasting. Make sure it’s what you want!
  4. Bring your own bags: A farmers’ market in and of itself is already quite environmentally friendly. Why not go a step further and save some bags? Stores like Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma have great canvas farmers’ market bags.

It is all about buying in season! Make sure to do your research and figure out what produce is currently in season, that way you will have the highest quality and best flavors at your disposal. You may initially think that buying in season will limit your options, but learning to cook in season, you will begin appreciating the amazing tastes and flavors of current produce. And then you have the excitement of produce to come!

Organic produce. Is it worth it? It can tend to get expensive. They key is making sure you know what you want and being willing to prioritize your shopping list. That being said, buying organic produce will give you the true flavor of the food. Even more importantly, you can be rest assured that you are receiving safe healthy goods. The selling of organic produce is tightly controlled and regulated. Ultimately this ensures that the produce farmers are selling was grown under strict guidelines (no chemical pesticides, soil that is free of chemical input).

  • Here are some examples of produce that is more commonly contaminated: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, spinach, strawberries.
  • Here are examples of produce that are the least commonly contaminated: asparagus, avocado, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, corn (frozen), eggplant, kiwi, mango, onions, papaya, peas (frozen), pineapple

Going to your local farmers’ market…notice the emphasis on ‘local?’ This is the kicker for me. I love the idea of building relationships with the farmers and supporting their businesses. Not only do you get to know the people growing your food, but you also know that you are receiving a quality product.

Local produce tends to be more flavorful. This is because the produce does not have to be shipped from around the country or world even. It has all been grown in your community. This makes cooking so much easier – you need less when cooking because the ingredients you are using are already so rich in flavor.

Okay, here is a strange concept: the food color wheel. Mother Nature has been kind enough to make healthy foods gorgeous and brightly colored! How can you look and a bright red apple and not want to sink your teeth into it, hearing the snap of the skin breaking, feeling the juice enveloping your taste buds? There are seven colors to keep in mind:

  1. Red (grapefruit, red peppers, tomatoes, watermelon) -  These foods contain lycopene that may help protect against prostate and breast cancers.
  2. Orange (apricots, carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, pumpkin) -  Alpha and beta-carotene in these foods are converted into the active form of vitamin A, which helps keep your eyes, bones and immune system healthy.
  3. Yellow (artichoke, corn, summer squash) -  This produce contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
  4. Green (leafy greens – arugula, chard, collards)
  5. Green (cruciferous – broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale) -  Indoles and isothiocyanates are found in both leafy and cruciferous greens. They may help prevent cancer by amping up the production of enzymes that clear toxins from the body.
  6. Blue (blueberries, blackberries, plums, eggplant)
  7. Purple/Deep Red (cranberries, grapes, radishes, strawberries) -  Blue and Purple/Deep Red foods contain antioxidants associated with keeping the heart healthy and the brain functioning optimally.

Woah… Information overload, anyone? A lot of it may have been information that you already knew, but it is great stuff to keep in mind! Health is so important – keeping a balanced diet and exercising regularly can help you live a longer life.

I hope that the pictures of Nea thrown in today’s post made you smile! She was such a joy to have with me at the farmers’ market. Maybe it is just because she is two years old, but everything she saw was so intriguing and interesting. Sometimes I wish that we all had the ability to see the world through the eyes of a two year old.

Until next time, happy blogging and happy farmers’ marketing!