Spring has sprung which means those sunny, warm summer days are right around the corner. Throughout the country farmers markets are starting to pop up in the same areas where not too long ago white powdered snow once laid. Excitement fills the air along with the sweet, earthy smells of blossoming flowers and budding greenery. As the landscape slowly becomes more vibrant and colorful as nature comes to life again, so does our food!
If you visit your local farmers market during the summer months you will find an abundance of seasonal food items that vary in color, texture, flavor, and nutritional quality. Varity is truly the spice of life, and there is no better way to experience all that variety has to offer by checking out your local market on a warm summer day!
Some of nature’s gifts available during the summer include:
- Bell peppers
- Berries (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
- Butter lettuce
- Champagne grapes
- Honeydew melons
- Sugar snap peas
…and the list goes on! Seasonal food items available during the summer, fall, winter, and spring months will vary depending on the region in which you live. Check out this seasonal food guide to learn more about what’s available near you!
Picture walking through the farmers market on a bright, sunny day and stopping in front of a display of colorful berries. You observe a carton of deep bluish/purple blueberries next to a display of plump, red strawberries and petite raspberries. The farmer working the stand sees you taking in the display and lets you try a berry of your choice. You pick up a raspberry and notice its vibrant color and somewhat fuzzy, tender texture. As you place it near your mouth you experience its pleasant aroma, and once you start chewing it you notice a sweet, yet sour flavor. Your lips pucker at the tartness while your eyes squint, and you feel a sense of pleasure and joy as you taste natures candy. The flavor is robust and superior; something that you have not experienced during the winter months when purchasing raspberries from the grocery store.
Buying in season not only guarantees superior flavor, but with flavor comes nutritional value. As an added bonus seasonal food items are often higher in their nutritional quality as they have traveled shorter distances from farm to plate. Many of the items featured at farmers markets have been picked at peak ripeness by farmers shortly before their display at the market. In many cases the produce was harvested the morning of! After produce is picked, it starts to lose nutritional quality as it is processed and sent to the distributor to be transported to grocery stores, and then to the home of consumers. By purchasing directly from farms, the consumer can shorten the distance and time the food has spent traveling from field to plate, preserving many of its nutrients and flavor. This also reduces the “food miles” food has traveled, which is the unit of measurement of the fuel used to transport food from producer to consumer. This can help lower greenhouse gas emissions from food transportation which can build up in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
Another opportunity to enjoy all that the summer season has to offer and support local farmers is to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Community Supported Agriculture programs are a way for consumers to purchase local, seasonal food items directly from a farm. Typically, a membership or subscription is purchased at the beginning of the season to help provide the farm with the funds it needs ahead of time to ensure a successful farming season. Throughout the months that follow the consumer receives a weekly assortment of fresh produce (other farm products may be included). To find a CSA program near you, checkout LocalHarvest.
Farmers and farmers market vendors can be some of the most knowledgeable, inspiring food-related teachers. Often, they will be able to provide shoppers with culinary tips on how to prepare seasonal food items. Sometimes, the answers to health-related questions can be found not in a textbook, but at a farmer’s market by interacting with the vendors and by tasting all that fresh produce has to offer. Cheers to the sweet (literally!) summer season ahead!
Crystal Cascio is an integrative Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and founder of Crystal Cascio Nutrition. She believes eating doesn’t have to be so complicated and the answer often lies in getting back to earth. You can learn more about her practice and philosophy by visiting her website, and checking out her content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.