Navigating a farmers market helps the local economy

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Farmers markets provide a chance for the public to get high-quality, fresh foods and support farmers in their community. Selling at the markets gives farmers a chance to tell others about their operation and agriculture in general.

In the past few years, people’s interest in farmers markets has climbed. The renewed interest is likely due to people trying to improve their diets and increasing awareness about the environmental benefits of buying foods from local farmers. 

Because of this, people, who have never been to a farmers market before, may be planning to go to a farmers market this year.

If you’ve never been to a farmers market, you should know that most vendors are locally based.

When you buy from them, you’re contributing directly to your local economy.  Most of these vendors have small operations and because of their operation’s size, cannot sell their produce to large commercial wholesalers. Additionally, many producers incorporate sustainable measures into their agricultural practices to preserve the quality of their soil and water and minimize the use of chemicals on their products.

When you buy from a farmers market, you are likely buying produce that is at the peak of its freshness and picked within a day or two of coming to the market.  Look for produce that is in-season. Some examples of in-season produce are as follows:

•Spring: asparagus, blackberries, lettuce, peas, spinach and strawberries

•Summer: blueberries, cherries, cucumbers, green beans, melons, okra, sweet corn, tomatoes and zucchini

•Fall: apples, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, pears, pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes

•Winter: beets, cabbage, carrots, onions, winter squash and turnips

Good produce doesn’t mean it is without aesthetic flaws. High-quality fruits and vegetables are crisp and brightly colored. For some fruits, like a peach or melon, a strong scent means they’re perfectly ripening.  Produce that is limp, soft or not crisp is likely over ripe and beginning to lose some of its nutritional value, texture and flavor.

If you aren’t going to use the produce immediately, make sure it’s safely stored to maintain its quality and freshness. You should store fresh fruits and vegetables for as little time as possible as they will lose nutrients and quality over time. Potatoes, onions and winter squash should be stored in a cool, dark place, unwashed.

Keep all other vegetables refrigerated at temperatures at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place peeled or cut produce in tightly covered containers within two hours.

For more information about farmers markets, contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 255-7188.

Source: Sandra Bastin, UK extension professor for nutrition and food sciences

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.