Picking produce: shop local, shop in season

Local, seasonal produce

From sweet corn and snap peas to berries and beans, summer is a great time to enjoy a wide variety of delicious—and nutritious—produce.

Fruits and vegetables reach their best flavor when freshly picked and in season. One of the best ways to find local produce at its peak is by shopping at your community farmers market or joining a Community Supported Agriculture group, or CSA. Finding fresh, local produce is also a great way to build a healthy diet. Read on to learn more about the perks of produce and where to track down fresh finds in your area.

Eating fresh, eating healthy

Eating a diet rich in certain fruits and vegetables, which are often naturally low in fat and calories, may:

  • Lower your risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
  • Protect against certain types of cancers.
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Keep skin and eyes healthy.
  • Help maintain healthy blood pressure.

How much produce you should eat can change depending on your age and any health issues you might have, but in general, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends 1–2 cups of fruit and 1–2 ½ cups of vegetables each day.

Take a trip to the market

There are many reasons people enjoy shopping at a local farmers market. It’s a great way to support, and even get to know, local growers, discover lesser-known fruits and vegetables, and for some, markets are a hot social gathering spot or weekly family tradition.

Here are some suggestions for a better shopping trip:

  • Know what’s in season. Fresh is best when it comes to produce, and buying local is a great way to find fresh. Explore this helpful chart of Wisconsin foods grown from June through October. (For example, don’t expect to find snow peas in September!)
  • Shop early. The earlier you arrive, the better chance you’ll head home with the cream of the crop.
  • Shop often. Different fruits and vegetables are sold each month, or even week to week.
  • Don’t be shy—ask! No one knows produce as well as the farmers who tended their crops from start to finish. They can tell you when a vegetable will be ripe, how it should be stored, and probably even some cooking tips.
  • Stay safe. Wash your farmers market finds thoroughly under running water before eating or preparing, even if you plan to peel the produce before you eat it. Refrigerate cut or peeled produce within two hours.

Share in the freshness with a CSA

If you haven’t participated in a CSA before, here’s how it works. You pay a local farm in full for a portion of the crops, usually in the spring before the harvest. Once harvest begins, you pick up your weekly share. It’s usually a wide sampling of everything that’s in season—greens and strawberries in the spring or potatoes and winter squash in the fall.

CSAs can pose some challenges, like storage or figuring out how to cook that kohlrabi. Check out some tips from EatingWell for ways to make the most of your CSA:

  • Get ready the night before by getting rid of what you didn’t eat last week (if it’s gone bad) or freezing it (if it’s still good).
  • Again, ask questions! If you don’t meet your farmer at pickup, see if there’s an email address for questions or a blog with recipe tips.
  • It’s generally acceptable etiquette to ask your fellow members to swap if you just hate something in your weekly share. You can also leave behind something you know you won’t eat; chances are someone else will be excited to eat more beets.
  • Do your research and learn how to properly store produce for maximum freshness. For example, wash your greens right away, and dry them off on a towel or in a salad spinner.
  • Get creative and search your cookbooks and the internet for recipes to put a delicious new spin on old favorites or try something brand new.

Some of the best spring and summer treats may be grown mere miles from your home. Best of luck on your search for fresh seasonal produce!

Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Wisconsin Department of Health Services; EatingWell; AARP.

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