By Ekaterina Morrissey
Being bi-coastal for the last 7 years, splitting our time between Florida and Southern California has given me the opportunity to have year around access to many farmers markets. As a health coach, my first advice to clients is to get to know their local farmers and the easiest way to do this is to shop at the local market-stands. Going with the whole family can make it a fun experience and bring an educational bonus to your kids as soon as they can walk and talk. Sadly, a lot of the young generation in today’s America does not recognize fresh fruits and vegetables, and think that real food comes in a box from a drive-thru, and chips and pizza grow on trees. By shopping at your local market-stand you will not only support small family farms who are bullied by big agribusiness corporations all over the country, but you will also end up eating local and seasonal fresh produce that has been picked up literally on the same day or the day before.
I don’t consider an apple from Argentina or a tomato from California exactly “fresh” when I am buying it in Florida. Do you? But it is what you’ll get in the “fresh produce” of the supermarket. Traveling produce is being picked before ripening so by the time it arrives at destination is ready ripened, which has been induced artificially. In addition to that, fruits and some vegetables are sprayed with paraffin which protects them from bruising, organic produce included.
What you’ll get at your farmers market is going to be always seasonally grown, which is one of the most important ways to align with nature and optimize your health naturally.
To fully enjoy and make the most of your farmers markets experience, may I suggest these 7 tips:
1. Start conversation with the vendors and ask key questions, such as “Are you the grower/farmer?”
Not every vendor is a farmer, some of them collect produce from different farms and sell them on their behave, so they don’t always have all the answers, as I’ve learned from experience. If that’s the case, you might want to make a small list of questions, have copies in your pocket and hand it to them to get answers from the actual farmers. Typically, you’d want to know if they are using pesticides and heirloom seeds for their produce. Heirloom seeds can not be Genetically Modified, and are kept generation after generation to seed every year. They are my number one choice. At all cost, stay away from pesticides sprayed produce.
2. “Is your produce organic?” is another key question. Due to the sad fact that United States government subsidies GMO(Genetically Modified Organisms) corn and soy but taxes small family farms with a huge fees to get “Certified Organic”, a lot of family farms can not afford to get that certification. However, many farms are growing their produce organically. I’ve been to a numerous small family owned farms, where the owner told me the last thing he wants is USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) on his land, simply because he doesn’t trust them. I couldn’t agree more. Ask if you can visit the farm. Most farm that have nothing to hide would be proud to show you around and brag.
3. Timing is everything! Go 1/2h after the farmers market opens to get a good selection of produce, or go later for an “everything must go” deals. Unless, you are cooking for a TV show or a special event where presentation is required, don’t ignore the “ugly” produce and buy those. So much produce goes to waste because it is not perfect looking, it is sickening! This, while there are starving people in so many parts of the world.
4. Bring your own basket or cooler on wheels, if you are buying dairy, eggs or meat. In addition to be environmentally conscious, you are also helping the farmers to cut cost on plastic or whatever bags they are using. Believe me, it’s going to be appreciate it.
5. “What do you feed your hens, goats and cows? Are they eating GMO corn and soy?” should be your question when buying eggs, dairy products and/or meat. In my experiences a lot of eggs vendors didn’t know what’s in the dry feed of the hens. Problem is, a lot of hen owners think that eating grass and bugs is a good enough, so they don’t look further into what is in the grain feed of the hens, and chance are very high, it is loaded with GMO corn and soy, you will end up eating if you don’t know the truth. I normally request to visit the farm and look at the feed label myself to verify this. Feel free to do the same; it’s your body, you have to know what you put in it.
6. Have a plan but leave room for spontaneity. It great to have a sketch of what’s for dinner or for the next few days and with that in mind you will buy the produce you need. But how about those nice edible flowers or purple carrots, you have never tried before? Have an open mind and be flexible to other options to experiment with new ingredients. A lot of farmers have some simple recipes for their eclectic pieces. Just engage and ask.
7. Remain truthful to your purpose. Some farmers markets almost look like a fair. There are plenty of vendors of cotton candies, donuts and other nasty temptations, that for some folks are hard to resist. Now days, you’ll even see a complete meals sold, vegan treats and more, competing with the current trends. Set your mind and goals before you go so you don’t end up in that trap and remain true to yourself. Chances are those homemade jams are loaded with GMO sugar and that donut, organic, vegan or made of gold, is still a sugar bomb, sabotaging your weight loss and health.
By Ekaterina Morrissey