Shopping at a Local Farmers Market is One of The Best Ways to Improve Your Diet and Your Overall Health

Anne, Marie O’Connor

Do you still struggle to eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day? You’re not alone. According to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only one in 10 Americans consumes the recommended amount. One reason: “A lifetime of only consuming under-ripe and tasteless produce shipped into grocery stores from long¬distance production fields,” says Diana Dyer, MS, RD, a dietitian and organic farmer in Ann Arbor, MI, who grows 40 varieties of garlic, which she sells at local farmers’ markets.

Thankfully, right now—the end of the summer—is one of the best times to enjoy the bounty of the harvest. Farmers’ markets around the country are overflowing with piles of radishes.

Shopping at a Local Farmers Market is One of The Best Ways to Improve Your Diet and Your Overall Health Photo Gallery



WHAT TO BUY

Unlike grocery stores, where you can buy strawberries in January and oranges in July, farmers’ markets only sell food that’s in season. Here’s what’s best right now:

Tomatoes, Corn

Herbs like parsley, basil and dill

Eggplant, Bell Peppers

Cucumbers, Radishes

Carrots, Beets

Potatoes, Melons

Peaches, Nectarines

“At the farmers’ market, everything tastes better,” agrees Mary Jane Detroyer, MS, RD, CDN, a dietitian, exercise physiologist and personal trainer in New York City. “The radishes are crisper, the lettuce tastes better.”

Shopping at a Local Farmers Market is One of The Best Ways to Improve Your Diet and Your Overall Health

“For me, the draw of a farmers’ market is that I know everything hasn’t traveled 3,000 miles, so it’s fresher than fresh,” says Marie Simmons, a Eugene, OR-based cooking instructor and food writer whose most recent cookbook is Whole World Vegetarian (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). “Once you start eating, say, carrots from the farmers’ market, you’re not going to want to eat carrots that have been in storage for months.” Beets and carrots in a rainbow of colors; juicy, candy-sweet melons, peaches, nectarines and apples; herbs so aromatic you can smell them from five feet away; and heaps of lettuce and greens that make bagged salads look sad.

BENEFİTS BY THE BUSHEL

Because it’s locally grown, “your purchase will be the most nutritious possible,” says Dyer, who’s also the author of A Dietitian’s Cancer Story (Swan Press, 2010).

Shopping at a Local Farmers Market is One of The Best Ways to Improve Your Diet and Your Overall Health

Produce from the farmers’ market “will in comparison. Even the basics—broccoli, zucchini, string beans and potatoes—are newly tempting when they’re just picked.

also last two to three times longer because it’s harvested that day or the day before,” adds Detroyer. “I can buy dark leafy vegetables like.

THEY’RE TOO “TRENDY

“Some people may have the mistaken impression that farmers’ markets are only for ‘trendy’ people,” says dietician and organic farmer Diana Dyer. “Nothing could be further from the truth. People from all walks of life love good-tasting food, and that is who you see at a farmers’ market. In fact, at one market we attend [to sell our produce], a full one-third of our income is from one of the multiple food assistance programs we accept.”

Have you been avoiding your local farmers’ market? Whatever the reasons—the crowds, the cliche hipsters and hippies, the high prices they may not be on point. Here, our experts refute some of these false notions.

THEY’RE TOO EXPENSIVE

It’s true that the produce at farmers’ markets may cost slightly more than at brick-and-mortar stores, though that often depends on the item, the time of the year and the area of the country. In any case, “it’s worth spending money on good food to keep yourself healthy,” says Marie Simmons, a food writer and cooking instructor. “My grandmother used to say, I’d rather spend the money on good food than on the doctor.”

Dyer also points out that “there is far less food waste—and money wasted—because this fresh, locally grown, delicious food is not going to spoil tomorrow.” And what you buy “is so delicious that you’ll want to eat it right away.”

COMMON MiSCONCEPTIONS ABOUT FARMERS I MARKETS

THEY’KE TOO CROWDED

“Some people may be overwhelmed by the scene of people, dogs, children and strollers at a large, popular farmers’ market,” Dyer admits. “For these people, I suggest attending a smaller, neighborhood farmers’ market, one that has more space, and fewer vendors and customers.” 

NOT JUST A SUMMER FIING

Farmers’ markets don’t close up during the cold-weather months, even in northern parts of the country. “Anyone who says that there is nothing to eat during the winter from local farmers’ markets is someone who needs a farmers’ market tour in the winter!” says Diana Dyer, an organic farmer based in Michigan. “Many markets are year-round, even in the upper Midwest, because so many farmers are now using hoop houses, which are passive solar green houses, to grow greens like spinach and kale during most weeks of the winter season.

“Also available is fresh produce that can be stored, including apples, pumpkins and other winter squashes, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, cabbage, turnips and rutabagas,” she adds. “Other locally produced items, including honey, maple syrup, eggs, various meats and cheeses, jams, salsas, nuts, dried mushrooms, breads and other baked goods, smoked fish and fermented foods of all kinds, are also available year-round.”

ERS’ MARKET 101

Have questions? Not sure if you can ask for a discount or are allowed to ask for a taste? “Every farmers’ market has a market manager who is readily available to answer questions,” says Diana Dyer. “In addition, many markets provide tours, during which you can ask about how to shop at a farmers’ market, plus [there are] various food demonstrations where you may sample new foods.”

Broccoli, kale or lettuce greens at the grocery store, and they’ll be gone in two days because they were probably picked in California or Florida, then shipped.

“There are also many more varieties of things than at the grocery store,” she says. “You can find purple broccoli, 10 different kinds of radishes, lettuce and herbs you’ve never heard of, like purslane.” Since experts recommend not only eating more produce, but also eating a greater variety, the wider selection is another major advantage.

To encourage her clients to mix up their menus, “I ask them to make a commitment to try one new fruit or vegetable each week,” Dyer explains. “I tell them to buy it in season and locally grown, if possible, so it is fully ripe and at its peak of flavor. Also, I recommend they buy a reasonable amount (not an entire bushel basket!) and ask the farmer for a simple or favorite way of preparing it.”

NOT JUST PRETTY FACES

Fruits and vegetables offer so many health benefits that they are truly superfoods.

“They lower blood pressure as much as medication,” Detroyer points out. “Many people who have high blood pressure are getting too much salt [sodium] and not enough potassium—and fruits and vegetables are loaded with potassium.”

They also help decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are contributing factors to heart disease. Plus they can slow aging better than any plastic surgeon. “Inflammation is what makes you age,” says Detroyer. “When you get more antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, you have less oxidation.”

They also can help with weight control. “The fiber and fluid in fruits and vegetables fill us up, so we don’t get as hungry as quickly,” adds Detroyer—and for a lot fewer calories than snacks like chips, pretzels and cookies.

Another reason to love everything from apples to zucchini: New research published in the American Journal of Public Health found that they can even make you happier. The study, which followed more than 

12,000 people, found that people became incrementally more content with each additional serving of fruits and vegetables they consumed, up to eight a day. The researchers speculate that antioxidants may be responsible for the cheerfulness boost.

PiCK A WINNER

Here’s how to reap the most benefits and make the smartest selections at the farmers’ market.

SCOPE OUT THE WHOLE MARKET FIRST

Prices can be different, variety can be different; one stall can have fresher produce than another, notes Detroyer.

GO EARIY FOR FRESHNESS

For the best selection and to avoid droopy greens and wilting herbs, make it to the market in the a.m.

GO LATE FOR BARGAINS

Farmers usually don’t want to have to haul unsold merchandise home.

THE VAST STEP: GETTING IT TO THE TABLE

You’ve brought home a bounty of the freshest produce from the farmers’ market now you just need to figure out how to prepare it all. Cookbook author Marie Simmons has some advice on getting it from the farm to the table.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

“I think people have a tendency to think things need to be complicated, or they think they need a recipe,” she says. “There’s nothing better than steamed carrots. Or chop some tomatoes, add a tiny bit of garlic, some torn basil, toss with hot pasta and it’s just the essence of summer.”

SHOP AT THE FARMERS’ MARKET BEFORE THE SUPERMARKET

It’s hard to predict what will be available, Detroyer says.

BMNG CASH. Many vendors don’t accept credit or debit cards.

USE EVERY PART OF THE VEGETABLE

“There are all sorts of ways to prepare beets that are healthy,” Simmons notes. “You can wilt the greens in a little olive oil with garlic to make a delicious side dish. The beets themselves don’t have to be boiled; instead wrap each individual beet in foil and bake in the oven anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size, until they are tender. Use them in a salad or serve warm with pesto.”

PURCHASE SMALl AMOUNTS

Only buy what you’ll be able to eat in the next few days.

LOOKS ARE NOT DECEIVING

Pick fruits and vegetables without any breaks in their skin, Detroyer advises. “If there’s a nick, bacteria can get in and start to rot. Also avoid anything wrinkled—it’s old.”

SMART STORAGE

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you keep “gas-sensitive” fruits and vegetables away from “gas¬releasing” items, which emit ethylene gas and can speed the ripening of the sensitive types.

Gas releasers include: apples, apricots, unripe bananas, figs, cantaloupe, honeydew, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, plums, avocados and tomatoes.

Gas-sensitive produce: ripe bananas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce and other leafy greens, peppers, squash and sweet potatoes.

While tomatoes, avocados, bananas, nectarines, potatoes, onions, garlic and winter squash shouldn’t be refrigerated, put melons, figs, plums, apricots, berries, cucumber, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and Brussels sprouts in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator as soon as you get home.

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