Never been to the farmers market?
Farmers markets have inspired celebrity chefs (Mario Batali is a regular at the Union Square Green Market in New York City) and healthy eaters to incorporate more diverse, regional produce into their lives. Recent studies by the United States Department of Agriculture have shown explosive growth across the nation, with the number of U.S. Farmers Markets tripling since 1994. With many markets now accepting food stamps, they have brought farm-fresh food to many cities, where fresh produce is the scarcest.
Here are four of my favorite "food rules" from Michael Pollan for your next (or first) trip to the farmers market:
1. "Eat your colors."
The dazzling colors of fruits and veggies are reflective of their anti-oxidants, which can help protect against disease. Enjoying the rainbow of colors helps ensure your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs. The "Reds" including strawberries, tomatoes and peppers, provide your body with Vitamin C. The "Greens" such as kale and broccoli act as an energy source. The "Oranges" such as squash and pumpkin, are high in Vitamin A. So, try a new fruit or vegetable on every trip. Be curious. Ask questions. Having the luxury of interacting with the source of your sustenance means you can learn what is the most fresh, nutritious, or delicious produce of the week. You will likely get some great tips on how to prepare your food once you get home. You can also avoid falling into a boring food rut of eating the same meal over and over again.
2. "Eat well-grown food from healthy soil."
Don't overlook produce because it doesn't have the certified organic label. Many of the smaller farm operators can't afford the expensive certification process, but practice organic farming techniques. Ask a lot of questions to understand the farming process, so you can make more informed decisions. By buying local produce, you are also reducing the environmental damage caused by transporting food across the nation (or sometimes across continents).
3. "Buy your snacks at the Farmers Market."
Eliminate your afternoon vending machine or Tasti D-Lite trip by purchasing your snacks-- fruits, veggies and nuts -- at the market. Buy in bulk and you will save money and avoid putting processed foods into your body.
4. "Treat treats as treats."
Even though the cookies, brownies, muffins, and crumble cakes are at the farmers market, it doesn't mean they are healthy for you. Don't deprive yourself of some of life's most decadent pleasures, but do practice moderation.
On a practical note, be sure to bring small bills to the market and you can leave your AmEx card at home. The farmers will appreciate the small bills. Bringing your own canvas bags is not only the chic, green thing to do, but it will also help ingratiate you with the farmers, who are operating on slim profit margins. If you can get to the market early, you are guaranteeing yourself the best selection, and there are great bargains to be found at the end of the day.
To find the best, local food in your area, check out LocalHarvest.org