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Top Five “Must Have” Foods From Farmers’ Markets

By Tracy Hampton, PhD, BIDMC Correspondent
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It’s easy to just buy fruits and vegetables at the grocery store during routine shopping trips, but now is the time to seek out Farmers’ Markets to buy at least a few of the most nutrient-packed foods fresh from local fields. Maura Beaufait, the Healthy Food Access Coordinator at Bowdoin Street Health Center, where she coordinates a variety of efforts including the BIDMC Farm to Family Program, offers a “top five” list for consumers.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

First on her list are berries. “There is nothing on earth like a fresh-picked berry – they are truly delightful,” she says. “Berries are frequently on the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of produce items with high pesticide loads. Choosing local, sustainably-grown berries over conventional ones is a great way to reduce your family’s exposure.” Beaufait notes that berry season is now in full swing in New England, with strawberries coming first in June, followed by blueberries in July and early August, and then raspberries and blackberries hanging out through September. To make an experience of it, go a step beyond buying some at a local Farmers’ Market and visit a nearby farm to pick your own. “Good luck getting them home without eating them all!” says Beaufait.

Next on her list are tomatoes. “The taste is totally different from the tomatoes you buy in the grocery store that are usually picked green and unripe, which leads to watery taste and mealy texture. Farmers’ Market tomatoes, on the other hand, are incredibly juicy and flavorful and come in an amazing array of colors, shapes, and sizes,” says Beaufait. “Heirloom” varieties of tomatoes are no longer grown commercially on a large scale, so purchasing these delectable and diverse varieties contributes to a healthy environment by promoting biodiversity. Beaufait offers a bit of traditional farmer’s wisdom: the uglier and more misshapen the heirloom tomato, the better it tastes. Favorite varieties of tomatoes to look for include:

  • Sungold Cherry tomatoes that are sweet and yellow-orange in color
  • Green Zebra tomatoes that are medium-sized, round, green, and striped, with a tangy flavor
  • Garden Peach tomatoes that are fuzzy-skinned, small, and yellow
  • Nebraska Wedding tomatoes that are super juicy, large, and orange
  • “Black” tomatoes that come in deep purple colors and have a nuanced flavor
  • Brandywine tomatoes that are the classic heirloom tomato and are available at almost any Farmers’ Market

Next come greens. “The wealth and diversity of greens at the Farmers’ Market really can’t be beaten. Fresh-picked kale, spinach, arugula, collard greens, mizuna, cabbage, callaloo, swiss chard, dandelion greens, and more put wilted supermarket greens to shame!” says Beaufait. The freshness factor also pays off budget-wise. “Fresh-picked greens stay fresh longer when stored appropriately in your fridge. Whereas supermarket versions last only a few days at top quality, market greens can last over a week, which means you won’t be throwing your money in the compost,” explains Beaufait. Also, like berries, greens—particularly kale and collard greens – can carry a high pesticide load, so Farmers’ Market greens are a great environmental choice.

Number four on the list is corn. “Sweet corn fresh from the market is truly incomparable with its flavorful and juicy crunch. You’ll never buy supermarket corn again,” claims Beaufait. She adds that with fresh corn, there is no need for butter or salt, or even cooking. “Eat it raw and unseasoned right off the cob to capture the full beauty that is corn at the peak of ripeness.” Beaufait notes that transportation and storage can destroy the nuanced flavor of fresh corn on the cob, so the only way to experience it at its best is to buy local corn, which is available from around mid-July and continuing through most of September in New England.

Finally, Beaufait recommends trying exotic or heirloom items at the Farmers’ Market. “As with tomatoes, purchasing uncommon and heirloom varieties of crops helps to maintain biodiversity in agriculture. There are many crops that have ceased to be available in your local grocery store that are really worth picking up at your neighborhood Farmers Market,” she says. Some examples in addition to tomatoes and greens include kohlrabi, specialty summer squashes like pattypan and cousa, romanesco cauliflower, purple potatoes, Asian greens, pea shoots, and squash blossoms. To see what’s growing in Massachusetts throughout the year, see this handy chart provided by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted June 2013

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