Updated September 1, 2017.
Last Saturday morning, the sky was sparkling blue. After some coffee and listening to the birds sing, I was inspired to hit the Howe Meadows Farmers Market early. I was motivated by the thought of fresh, local produce. The supermarket’s selection is vast, but the freshness and flavor varies.
Broccoli’s flavor is so much better when it is locally grown and fresh-picked. It may not look as beautiful. The florets are bigger and sag a bit; nothing like the tightly packed stiff heads sold in the supermarket. Then, you cook it, and it is almost sweet, without the sulfur bite and smell. It makes you wonder how (or, why) the supermarket variety ever got the way it is.
A lot of vegetables taste better fresh from the garden, the most obvious being the tomato. Green beans, cucumbers, carrots — they don’t taste anything like the produce sold in the supermarket year-round.
There is debate about whether local produce really tastes better, or if we just think that it does. My experience is that it fresh, local food is almost always more flavorful, though it may not be as pretty. Preservation during shipping is not a factor for locally grown food. Therefore, the grower has discretion to choose varieties that are more flavorful. Similarly, fruits and vegetables can be picked at the height of ripeness — also a pro for nutritional value.
The feeling that you are doing something positive for your health, as well as the environment and local businesses, makes the farmers market a pleasure on the weekend. And bringing home something crazy like kohlrabi or a Hubbard squash can send you running to Pinterest for the best recipe to showcase your new favorite. It is a stimulating, creative endeavor. You might even call it fun!
Many farmers markets offer handmade and specialty items in addition to meat, dairy, eggs, bakery, and produce. Ours has pour over coffee, burritos, pierogi, soaps, jewelry, toys, and flowers. This selection makes the trip extra fun and special.
Last year, we joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and received a bag of produce, a protein item, and other local goodies once a week. Consequently, I didn’t go to the farmers market because we had way more than we could eat.
There were pros and cons to the CSA. It seemed like a good value, and I learned to make a variety of vegetables that were new to us. On the other hand, we didn’t know what we were getting week-to-week, so I often had to make a second stop to the supermarket on CSA bag day.
Another issue was the redundancy of some produce, notably zucchini. I baked zucchini bread, made zucchini noodles, and fried zucchini fritters. Then, I grated and froze even more zucchini. I still have some in the freezer from last summer!
I did, however, come to appreciate the taste and nutritional value of locally produced food; and the importance of supporting the producers of that food. Our CSA program included meats and eggs, locally made pasta, granola, cheeses, and breads.
The meats were also wonderful. Noteworthy were two-inch thick pork chops, free-range chickens, and hamburger. Everything looked and tasted great –without added color or water. Chicken that has not been injected with a sodium solution is juicy without being flaccid.
The Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy provides information on a variety of traditional and non-traditional CSA options. This may be a good way to pick and choose an option that works for you. No doubt, other parts of the country offer similar choices. So, if a bad experience with a CSA is in your past, don’t give up just yet.
Whether you choose to participate in a CSA program, or visit farmers markets, be sure to include some locally sourced food in your diet. You will be reminded of how food is supposed to taste.
Here’s my easy refrigerator pickle recipe. It came in handy when pickles were abundant. What are you buying locally now, and how are you preparing your bounty?
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