I love when the end of May rolls around and Farmers’ Markets are up and running again here in the Northeast. The arrival of beautiful Spring weather is a perfect reminder of the importance of eating locally produced vegetables and fruits in season for optimum health and wellness. I don’t have to tell you how valuable eating vegetables are for building strong bones and a healthy body, but did you know buying your produce from a local Farmer has so many additional benefits to your health as well as the environment and community. Read on to discover several reasons you should visit your local Farmers’ Market this season.
1. Eating foods in season. Seasonal produce not only tastes better, but also provides higher concentrations of nutrients and anti-oxidants. Eating with the seasons allows you to eat as nature intended, reaping the health benefits of a diet that is diverse in nutrients and supports the requirements of the weather. There is nothing better than a salad full of fresh greens to help you detoxify in the Spring, a juicy vine-ripe heirloom tomato to keep you hydrated during the hot Summer months, or a rich sweet potato in late Fall to prepare your body for the cold Winter nights ahead. Incorporating seasonal freshly harvested fruits and vegetables into your meals also encourages rotating your foods to ensure a diverse diet. It is often suggested that the availability of foods all year round leads us to eat the same thing over and over again, contributing to the likelihood of food allergies and intolerance.
Doesn’t it make sense that eating produce nature provides according to the seasons is the optimal way to achieve good health?
2. Produce grown locally. At a Farmers’ Market you can find produce harvested at peak ripeness and often sold within 24 hours, making a perfect package of nutrition. When we buy foods grown in other areas of the country or even in different parts of the world, it can take weeks for food to travel from the farm to your table. These fruits and veggies have to be harvested prematurely, decreasing their nutrient content. Furthermore, because foods begin to lose nutrients once they are picked, by the time they reach your home, they have not only lost freshness and flavor but also nutrients. Although some produce, such as apples, are able to continue to ripen after being picked, other fruits and vegetables, such as red peppers and tomatoes, only ripen while on the plant. Studies have shown that the vitamin C content of red peppers, tomatoes, apricots, peaches and papayas are higher when these crops are picked fully ripe from the plant.
Doesn’t it make sense to eat foods that have ripened as nature intended and picked when its nutritional value is highest?
3. Greater variety. Most commercially available produce are chosen for their ability to ship well, store well, and continue to “look fresh” on the store shelves, not their nutritional value. However, the nutritional value of many fruits and vegetables can vary greatly from one variety to the next. Because local farmers don’t need to worry about storage and transportation of their produce, they are more likely to prioritize taste and nutritional quality over durability when making varietal decisions. Therefore, Farmers’ Markets can offer a wider variety of local foods that you won’t typically find in supermarkets and restaurants. During the Winter months, it is easy to get into a rut when having to shop at a supermarket, picking the same fruits and vegetables week after week resulting in identical nutrient intake. When was the last time you had a red carrot, purple cauliflower, green garlic, mâche, kohlrabi, or a donut peach?
Doesn’t it makes sense that selecting from nature’s bounty, rather than the supermarket’s, will ensure more variety and the added benefit of a greater array of nutrients?
4. Local farmers often farm organically. Much of the produce and products found in traditional supermarkets are grown using pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and genetic modification, all of which can be detrimental to your health. In contrast, most produce found at Farmers’ Markets is grown organically and the meat, poultry, cheese and eggs come from animals that have been raised without hormones or antibiotics, have eaten a natural diet and have been allowed to graze freely. Researchers have concluded that organic crops and organic-crop-based foods contain higher concentrations of nutrients on average, especially higher levels of antioxidants, than conventionally grown foods. Naturally raised livestock also have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These high omega-3 fatty acids are found in organic meats, dairy and eggs.
Doesn’t it make sense to eat foods free from pesticides, hormones and antibiotics?
5. Benefits the community. By supporting your Farmers’ Market not only do you support your local farmer, but also boost the local economy by keeping dollars in the community and supporting local jobs. Small, local farmers go to great length to grow nutritious produce using organic, sustainable techniques yet have a hard time competing in the large agricultural marketplace.
Doesn’t it make sense to buy local to support your community?
6. Benefits the environment. Imported food can travel over a thousand miles to get to the store, burning large amounts of fuel, contributing to pollution and creating excessive trash with extra packaging. Food that is grown and sold locally travels a much shorter distance and doesn’t need the extra packaging for protection and presentation. Local farms are usually smaller and use farming techniques that minimize the impact to our environment.
Doesn’t it make sense to support local farmers that care about our environment?
7. Local Raw Honey. Honey is a great example of the benefits of buying local. Since raw, local honey comes from bees that pollinate local flowers, consumption of this honey can strengthen the immune system and reduce pollen allergy symptoms. Raw honey is also known for its natural vitamins and enzymes as well as for having anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Many experts believe that if local honey is eaten regularly, it can help reduce pollen allergies.
Doesn’t it make sense to sweeten your food with local honey to benefit from its numerous health effects as well as its ability to help you fight seasonal allergies?
I know in the Winter months it is next to impossible to avoid fruits and vegetables that have been harvested from afar. So this season take the opportunity to shop at a local Farmers’ Market or join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. Experience foods that not only taste better, but are also more nutritious.
Grab this opportunity to highlight vegetables in your diet! Choose a vegetable that you’ve never had and create a new recipe! Change your mind-set about dinner so that vegetables are the focal point of your plate instead of choosing your meat, with your vegetable as an after-thought.