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Eating Healthy: Farmers Market Produce Can Improve Nutrition

Late summer yields a mouthwatering banquet of fresh, local produce—particularly in the Pacific Northwest. For those who want to take advantage of this bounty, the farmers market remains a popular way to buy in-season fruits and vegetables.

Since the 1990s, the number of farmers markets has been steadily increasing to meet the demand for local produce. Today, more than 8,000 markets exist. Those who frequent them often become regular shoppers; more than half go at least twice a month, while nearly a third go every week.

Why do they keep returning? In one survey, shoppers reporting choosing the farmers market for:

  • Freshness and taste—27 percent
  • Supporting local agriculture—22 percent
  • Convenience—18 percent
  • Community atmosphere—15 percent
  • Variety of local produce—11 percent
  • Price—7 percent

Portland nutrition counseling experts recommend shopping local as a strategy for improving your family’s nutrition. Simply browsing the local farmers market, for example, is guaranteed to lead you to great-tasting fruits and vegetables that offer a wealth of health benefits. Nearly 60 percent of shoppers say visiting the farmers market improves their consumption of fruits and veggies.

To get the most out of your produce, consider these tips when shopping the farmers market:

Start early. Farmers markets get busy, particularly in larger cities. That means vendors often sell out of their prime products by early afternoon—especially perishables such as meat and seafood. To ensure the best selection, arrive early. But if it’s a bargain you’re looking for, show up late instead. In farmers markets that allow it, vendors will often choose to discount their products at the end of the day rather than pack them up and haul them home.

Know what’s in season. The point of shopping at the farmers market is to buy fresh, local foods while they’re in season and at the height of their flavor. Buying fruits that are out of season or grown elsewhere defeats the purpose. If you buy apples in summer, for example, they’ve likely been sitting in a refrigerator since the fall. Knowing which fruits and vegetables are in season helps make your decision-making process much easier.

Choose whole veggies. Some vendors will trim the greens off their root vegetables, while others leave them whole. Always choose the whole ones, which last longer. Plus, many of the greens can be washed and made into pesto or prepared like chard or kale.

Buy in bulk. The more you buy, the better the prices you’ll get—particularly if a food is at its harvest peak. The task of using up all that fresh produce can be daunting, but freezing, canning and drying are just a few of the ways you can preserve them for later in the year.

Try something new. While perusing the farmers market, you’re likely to encounter produce you don’t normally see at the grocery store. Instead of staying in your comfort zone, commit to branching out and trying new local foods. You might discover something your family loves.

Shopping the local farmers market benefits your family in more ways than one, Portland nutrition counseling providers say. In addition to improving nutrition, it strengthens the local economy, helps the environment and adds a deeper dimension to the foods you eat.

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