Now that the unofficial start of summer is here, chances are you're going to be attending or hosting a backyard barbecue or some other kind of food-centric celebration. Since Green Boot Camp is all about making small changes to adopt a greener lifestyle, this weekend I want you to figure out how you can shop locally for your Memorial Day celebration fare. This is your Week 19 task.
I know that my CSA is opening up shop next week (too late for Memorial Day cooking) and that our town's farmers' market is open for the season. Chances are there's a farmers' market or farm stand near to you where you can at least get the fixings for your burgers--you know, lettuce and tomato.
With this notion of shopping locally in mind, here are eight tips on how to make the most of your locavore, local-shopping and farmers' market experiences, courtesy of FruitandVeggieGuru.com, a website with tips and recipes on all kinds of fruits and vegetables, ranging from apples to zucchini.
1. Ask before you buy.
Some farmers' markets have stalls where vendors can offload their overstocked, distressed or supermarket-rejected produce, which they've purchased from local wholesalers who unload it cheaply to sellers for fruit and vegetable stands. While you can get good deals from these sellers, they are not a source for fresh local produce. You want to ask first if this person actually grew the produce he or she is selling, or if that person is just a reseller. When in doubt, stick with the farmers only.
2. Shop early in the day for selection.
When the first-of-season blueberries or peaches or honey crisp apples (yum, my favorite!) arrive, they often disappear from market tables before noon. Even less time-sensitive foods like pickling cucumbers might be gone if you wait until late in the day to pick them up. Remember: just like the early bird and the worm, the early shopper gets the best choice on farm-fresh produce.
3. Let the produce du jour guide your meal planning.
Since farmers' market selections come from just 100 or 200 miles away, the local climate dictates what you'll find on any given day. That means you'll get leafy greens, herbs and sprouts early in the season, and you'll have to wait for items like corn, berries and tomatoes. Build your menus around produce availability to take full advantage of the season's bounty. That's one of the reasons I love my new CSA: each week they post recipes on the farm's website, and these recipes specifically include the produce that was picked--and we picked up--that week.
4. Buy for value.
At a farm stand, foods like corn, green beans, herbs, squashes, cucumbers and fresh peas may be less expensive than their store-bought cousins. Tomatoes are also a good value. However, many other items may be pricier than your neighborhood grocer because small farmers lack economies of scale, use more expensive heirloom seeds, and care for their crops by hand rather than machine. The reward: you'll get peak-of-season taste that is hard to find at your neighborhood grocer.
5. Understand the history of heirloom produce.
Local farmers typically use heirloom seed stock passed down through generations without human engineering. Often, fruits and vegetables grown from these seed varieties have more flavor than grocery store produce bred from seeds developed for their high yield, ability to withstand long-distance travel, and/or tolerance to drought and frost.
6. Look for organic growers.
You'll usually find a few organic farmers that offer foods that are grown and processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, germ-killing irradiation, and most pesticides and fertilizers. But don't expect to find "certified organic" goods. Many smaller producers are not big enough to justify the expense of getting inspected and certified under the National Organic Program. So when you're at a farmer's stall at the market, question him or her about the farm's use of chemicals and pesticides, and then make your purchasing decision accordingly.
7. Ask when produce was picked.
The sugars in foods like peas and corn turn to starch quickly after picking, so be sure you know when they came out of the fields. Some vendors pick fresh in the morning, while others pick the night before because they have to drive two or three hours to set up for a 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. market. A 12-hour pick-to-market difference is no big deal, but tell the farmer "no deal" if it turns out that produce was picked a few days ago.
8. Befriend the farmers.
Remember, the people you're buying from are most likely the people who grow the food. They can steer you to the best buys of the day, teach you about foods you might not be familiar with (how often do you buy fennel or celeriac?), and perhaps reserve something special for you the following week. Besides, part of the enjoyment of farmers market shopping is that it's personal.
To find a farmers' market nearest you, visit the Local Harvest website, which has a directory of not only farmers' markets but also food co-ops and CSAs.
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Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).