One of the joys of summer is a ripe tomato, picked fresh from the garden. The advantage of having a home garden is that you can pick and enjoy your vegetables when they are at their peak of ripeness. But not everyone has the time or space for a vegetable garden. Fortunately for us, we can easily find fresh fruits and vegetables in season locally, by visiting a farm market, roadside stand or U-pick farm. Many are available in this area.
Farmers' markets offer a variety of fresh, locally-produced fruits, vegetables, bakery items, meat and other products in a festive atmosphere. The average supermarket produce travels about 1,500 miles to your plate, compared to 50 miles or less for farm market produce. Farmers' markets can be a great place to shop. Have fun looking at the variety of produce and other goodies. Take your children or grandchildren along. Many kids have no idea where food comes from or how it looks in its unprocessed state. Seeing carrots with tops or cauliflower with its green wrapper leaves gives them an idea of how vegetables grow. Talk to the farmer who grew your food about what is plentiful now and what is in season next.
When going to a U-pick farm dress appropriately - wear comfortable clothes and shoes that you don't mind getting dirty. Don't forget the sunscreen and a hat or sunglasses. Mornings are usually cooler picking weather. Before you leave home, check to make sure the farm is open and what you are interested in is in season. Weather conditions can change crop availability year to year. Many U-pick farms have fruit available already picked or you may be able to order ahead.
When you get to the farm remember that it is a working farm. Read and follow all farm instructions and rules. Watch for moving equipment and vehicles and be aware of your surroundings. Treat trees and plants with care - these plants are an investment in time and money for the farmer. Don't walk on plants, push through bushes, or climb trees. Bring picking containers if the grower does not provide them. Small and shallow are usually best. Make sure you can get home whatever you pick without damaging it. Bring your children along so that they learn about where their food comes from, but leave your pets at home.
When visiting a farmers' market consider shopping early. You'll find the best selection early in the day and occasionally certain items may sell out. Bring your own reusable bags or a basket. As you buy, put heavier, firmer items on the bottom of your bag.
Browse before buying.
Take time to compare the offerings of different vendors. Be adventurous and buy something you've never had before. You may discover a new favorite food. Plan to pay with cash, so bring small bills and change. You will be paying at each farmer's stand and many do not accept checks or credit cards.
When fruits and vegetables are in season make plans to preserve (freeze or can) them.
You'll appreciate your efforts this winter when you enjoy the flavors of summer in a favorite recipe.
Bring a cooler and ice packs with you.
Foods will decline in quality and perishable foods like meats and eggs can pose food safety problems if left sitting in your car. Don't leave ripe berries, sweet corn, tender spinach or anything in the hot trunk of your car. Save those other errands for later and go straight home. Do not drive around with unrefrigerated fruits and vegetables for more than two hours.
When you get home, wash your hands before working with produce.
Properly store your purchases. Some foods can be kept at room temperature (like potatoes and onions), but most fresh fruits and vegetables keep best when stored in the refrigerator. Store fruits separate from vegetables. Fruits give off ethylene gas which can shorten the storage life of vegetables.
Wash produce before you use it, not when you bring it home.
Fresh produce has a natural protective coating that helps keep in moisture and freshness. Washing produce before storage causes it to spoil faster. Remove and discard outer leaves. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water just before eating, cutting or cooking. Do not use soap as it can get into produce. Even if you plan to peel the produce before eating, it is still important to wash it first. Any bacteria present on the outside of items (like melons) can be transferred to the inside when you cut or peel them. Use a clean cloth or paper towel to dry items. Refrigerate cut or peeled fruits and vegetables within two hours after preparation.
Shopping at a farm market, road side stand or U-pick farm is a great way to get locally-grown, fresh fruit, vegetables and other foods for your family. By supporting your farming neighbors and buying local, you keep your dollars circulating in our community.
Resources for this article include University of Nebraska Extension, Ohio State University and University of Wisconsin.
Contact the Cornell Cooperative Extension Genesee County Master Gardeners for assistance with your gardening questions. They may be reached by calling 585-343-3040, ext. 127, Monday through Friday from 10 am until Noon; or stop in at our office at 420 East Main St., Batavia. They may also be contacted via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our CCE web site at http://genesee.shutterfly.com/. "Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County provides equal program and employment opportunities."
The Bounty of Genesee County Buy Local Guide is now available at the Batavia CCE office or on line at http://geneseebuylocal.shutterfly.com/agritourism. This updated brochure (printed by the generous support of the Genesee County Master Gardeners) will give you a glimpse into the diversity of agriculture in Genesee County. The Master Gardeners would like to hear how you used the brochure, where you went or what you bought. Send your feedback, comments and/or photos to email@example.com and you will be entered to win a basket of locally produced items. The drawing will take place at the Master Gardener Harvest Gala on Sept. 17, 2011.