Healthy Outlook: Local produce will freshen up your diet; here’s how to use it

Produce — including beets, new potatoes, kohlrabi and more — is for sale at the Pendleton's Kaw Valley Country Market booth at the Clinton Parkway Nursery farmers market on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

My parents will forever lament that their dainty, suburban-raised little girl never got her hands dirty picking the day’s dinner salad from the backyard garden.

Although I never did have that experience, I recently found the next best thing here in town, on an adventure to the farmers market.

Buying lettuce from the farmer who pulled it out of the ground himself that same afternoon changed my perspective on food. The massive heads of romaine, green leaf and red leaf lettuce he displayed were three times the size of any I’ve seen in stores, and they lasted longer than any “fresh” food I’ve ever brought home from a store.

The culture of the markets here in town is warm, friendly and accepting of wide-eyed novices like me. The vendors are people who take pride in the labor they put into their goods and who genuinely care that the customers they meet have a good experience.

Here are some ideas of how to use the local bounty.

Why eat local produce?

Brent Trammell is a certified health coach through the American Council on Exercise. He’s also the former nutritional health coach at Natural Grocers in Lawrence, where he’s now assistant store manager.

photo by: Contributed Photo

Brent Trammell

First, the basics: Why produce? He said in almost every study on nutrition, an underlying theme is that as vegetable intake increases, chronic illness tends to decrease.

That’s why general recommendations are to eat five to nine servings of vegetables every day. More simply, about half your plate at each meal should be fruits and vegetables to make sure you get all the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients your body needs, Trammell said.

“The cool thing about that, though, is there is no upper limit,” he said. “There’s not a point where you can eat so many vegetables that they kind of start making you sick.”

And why local?

“A lot of people don’t know that some nutrients start to degrade over time,” he said — exposure to temperature, time and light can all make a difference in the produce’s quality by the time it gets to you. “… So your fresh produce right off the field is the best.”

How to use it

A mixture of fresh, brightly colored fruits and veggies tossed together into a salad is, of course, a classic treatment. (Yes, fruit can go in a nonfruit salad — deliciously.)

But you can think outside the bowl: There are a lot of ways to use vegetables in meals that may not come intuitively and that may be more tolerable for picky eaters or for those who have trouble digesting raw vegetables, Trammell said.

For instance, Trammell suggested blending veggies such as carrots or broccoli into red pasta sauce. He said you can also make healthy smoothies with a plant-based milk, such as soy or almond milk, and it doesn’t take a ton of fruit to mask the veggie flavor. Soups and stews are yet another good option.

You can also substitute veggies for pasta. Cauliflower is a versatile option — you can buy or make cauliflower rice, by blending or grating it, and that can be used in any dish where you’d traditionally use rice, Trammell said. It can also be mashed like potatoes, or used like flour in a pizza crust.

Also, you can try the ever-popular “zoodles” — zucchini noodles. They’re made by using either a vegetable peeler or a spiralizer to cut thin “noodles” out of fresh produce. Compared to traditional pasta, they have significantly fewer calories, cook more quickly and pack in a lot more essential vitamins and minerals.

In researching this article, I bought a spiralizer and tried my hand at zoodles. Even learning how to make them, it only took about five minutes to turn two good-sized zucchini into enough noodles for three or four meals. They cooked rapidly and tasted fantastic.

Preparing veggies the way you want them won’t really negate their benefit, Trammell said.

“Whatever way makes it palatable for you — if you have to have a little bit of salad dressing on the salad, go for it, because it’s better you get that good stuff plus a little bit of bad than none of it at all,” he said.

Where to get it

From the farms to you:

There are several weekly markets in the area. Some farmers at the markets can take credit cards; cash is a safer bet, though some markets sell $5 tokens for those who don’t have cash on hand.

Several markets also accept SNAP benefits through the Double Up Food Bucks program, meaning that for every $1 spent, buyers get $1 free. More information is available on the program’s website, doubleupheartland.org.

Lawrence Farmers’ Market: Vendors’ farms are within a 50-mile radius of the city and in the state of Kansas.

• 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays at the Lawrence Public Library parking garage, 725 Vermont St.; open May through October.

• 7 to 11 a.m. Saturdays at 824 New Hampshire St.; open April through November (hours change to 8 a.m. to noon in September).

Teresa Cater sells locally grown produce at Clinton Parkway Nursery farmers market on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

Eudora Farmers Market: This market will be open from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays in the parking lot of Gene’s Heartland Foods, 1402 Church St., starting this week.

Farmers Market at Clinton Parkway Nursery: Open from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. each Wednesday at the nursery, 4900 Clinton Parkway, through September.

Cottin’s Hardware Farmers Market: Open from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at the store, 1832 Massachusetts St. It moves inside for the colder months and stays open year-round.

Perry Lecompton Farmers Market: Open from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Fridays in the parking lot of Bernie’s, 2115 Ferguson Road, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 24 and Ferguson Road, through mid-October.

• Baldwin City Farmers Market: Opens by 8 a.m. Saturdays near the post office, 710 High St. A second market might open this summer, according to Jeannette Blackmar of the city’s chamber of commerce.

• Common Harvest CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture): This program offers locally grown, organic produce on a subscription basis. It’s delivered for pickup weekly to a few sites around town. The program is full for the 2018 season, but it does have a waiting list. Find more information at commonharvestcsa.com.

Pick your own:

If you want to roll up your sleeves and pick your own fruits and veggies, some farms in the area will give you the chance:

Wohletz Farm Fresh, at 1831 North 1100 Road southeast of Lawrence, offers pick-your-own strawberries and blueberries seasonally. Call 785-331-3468 or visit its Facebook page before you go to check for availability.

Pendleton’s Country Market, at 1446 East 1850 Road between Lawrence and Eudora, offers pick-your-own vegetables seasonally and has regular hours. Call 785-843-1409 or visit its Facebook page for more information.

John Pendleton, of Pendleton’s Kaw Valley Country Market, arranges tomatoes at the Clinton Parkway Nursery farmers market on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.

• The website pickyourown.org offers a lot of information, including a calendar of approximate ripening dates for fruits and vegetables. It also has tips for picking and detailed explanations of how best to store, can, dry and freeze a wide variety of produce, plus a list of farms in surrounding counties.

In stores:

A few grocery stores in town focus on natural, sustainable, farm-fresh and local foods, though their definitions of “local” vary a bit.

Because it can be a challenge for small farms to get organic certification — costs to do so “may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars,” according to the USDA — many local growers are at the mercy of stores’ policies.

The Merc Co+op, 901 Iowa St., defines “local” as grown or raised within a 200-mile radius, according to its website. Its produce is 60-80 percent certified organic, and the store says many of the local farms from which it purchases products do practice organic farming methods, even though they lack certification.

Natural Grocers, 1301 W. 23rd St., has begun to source more of its certified-organic produce locally. Mellowfields Farm, on the outskirts of Lawrence, recently started working with the store, and items from that farm are marked as such.

Sprouts Farmers Market, 4740 Bauer Farm Drive, refers to “local” produce as anything grown in a 500-mile radius, according to the company’s website. The store offers organic and nonorganic produce.

Alternative options

Any number of factors can hinder some from buying fresh produce — cost, availability, concern about eating it before it goes bad and so on.

In that case, Trammell said the best bet is generally to buy frozen. Especially for those who don’t know what they’ll eat throughout a given week, frozen gives the option of taking out what you need and putting the rest back. It also can better preserve some nutrients.

“A lot of times, if your food’s coming from far away, frozen is the closest thing to fresh,” Trammell said. “It doesn’t seem like it, but when they actually do the analysis on the nutrients, there’s always more in frozen than most other ways of preparation and sometimes even more than what you get in a so-called ‘fresh’ variety if it’s been shipped over long distances.”

Also, Trammell said nonorganic produce is far better than no produce at all — but organic does have its benefits and contains fewer chemicals that can add up in our bodies over time.

“It also seems that organic farming may be much more sustainable in the long run, with yields that can potentially match conventional farming, but without the damage to the environment and surrounding communities,” he said. “What’s more, organic foods generally contain a higher nutrient density, which is always a plus.”


About Healthy Outlook

Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.

Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie:

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