Season's Eatings: What's Fresh Now?

In these United States, Memorial Day weekend heralds the unofficial start of the summer season. Communities will gather to pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces with parades, prayer services, and the placing of flags in local cemeteries. Grills will get fired up as families and friends host backyard cookouts.

But here in the arctic tundra, Memorial Day weekend also means the long-awaited opening of the farmers markets. YeeeeHaw! No more tasteless produce. No more eating fruits and veggies that have traveled further than I've traveled in a lifetime (and I've done a lot of traveling!). Think I'm kidding? Check out this oldie but goodie from the archives: Does Your Food Travel More Than You Do?

So, What's In Season in Your Region?

Exact crop availability and harvest times vary year-to-year, but this summary will give you an idea of what to look for now in your neck of the woods. You can also look up produce availability by state at Field to Plate.

The Northwest

Arugula, Asparagus, Cauliflower, Chard, Cherries, Collard Greens, Edible Flowers, Fennel, Fiddleheads, Kale, Lettuce, Mint, Morels, Oregano, Potatoes, Radicchio, Radishes, Rhubarb, Rosemary, Sage, Scallions, Sorrel, Spinach, Thyme, Watercress, Zucchini

The Southwest

Apricots, Avocados, Blackberries, Carrots, Cilantro, Chard, Cucumbers, Green Beans, Kale, Lettuce, Nectarines, Oregano, Peaches, Peas, Sage, Snap Peas, Sorrel, Spinach, Summer Squash, Sweet Onions, Tomatoes, Zucchini

The Midwest

Arugula, Asparagus, Beets, Cabbage, Chard, Collard Greens, Fava Beans, Fennel, Leeks, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Parsley, Parsnips, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Turnips

The South

Asparagus, Beets, Blueberries, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collard Greens, Green Beans, Lima Beans, Okra, Peaches, Plums, Pole Beans, Spinach, Strawberries, Summer Squash, Sweet Onions, Valencia Oranges

The Northeast

Arugula, Artichokes, Asparagus, Chard, Fava Beans, Fiddleheads, Garlic Scapes, Green Onions, Lettuce, Mint, Nettles, New Potatoes, Parsley, Parsnips, Pea Greens, Rhubarb, Spinach, Thyme

Purchasing food close to the source ensures freshness and a smaller impact on the environment since fewer resources are used to transport the food from farm to table, but that's not the only reason I love shopping at my local farmers market.

"Knowing where your food comes from can change your life." 
~ Alice Waters

Truer words were never spoken. Wanna change your relationship with food? Meet the farmers who grow it!

How Green Does Your Garden Grow?

Conventional farmers apply chemical fertilizers to soil to grow their crops and use insecticides and fungicides to get rid of insects and disease. They'll typically control weed growth by applying synthetic herbicides.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers 60% of herbicides, 90% of fungicides and 30% of insecticides to be carcinogenic. Yikes! I don't like those odds, do you?

Aside from pesticide contamination, conventional produce tends to have fewer nutrients than organic produce. On average, conventional produce has only 83% of the nutrients of organic.

Organic farming differs from conventional farming in the methods used to grow crops. Organic farmers build and feed soil with natural fertilizer such as compost. To control insects and disease, an organic farmer will employ natural methods like insect predators. For weed control, organic farmers use crop rotation, hand weeding, and mulch.

Now listen, just because you're shopping at the local farmers market, doesn't necessarily mean that all the produce you see is organic. But here's the thing: the folks who grew it are standing right in front of you, so ask.
The Dirty Dozen

The  Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been publishing guides to the "dirty dozen" of the most pesticide-contaminated foods since 1995, based on statistical analysis of testing conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The dirty dozen list only reflects measurable pesticide residues on the parts of the foods normally consumed (meaning, after being washed and peeled). But, according to the EWG, consumers can reduce their pesticide exposure by 80% just by avoiding the most contaminated fruits and veggies.

Thanks to our liver, which serves as a super filtering system, we can all handle a certain amount of chemicals and toxins while still remaining reasonably healthy. But, what happens over time is the liver becomes overwhelmed. This happens much more rapidly in young children.

We can help our liver function more efficiently by adding in an assortment of fresh organic fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains to our daily diet. At the very least, we'd be wise to avoid the dirty dozen by purchasing those items organic.

Download your own Shopper's Guide To Pesticides and keep a copy in your wallet. Visit Local Harvest to find a farmers market near you. As my friend Penni in Tulsa says, Know Your Farmer - Know Your Food.

So, tell me, what will you be buying at the farmers market this holiday weekend? How will you celebrate Memorial Day?

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