Fresh Local Produce is Drawing Near!

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March 20th brought with it the first day of spring, and I, like most people, have been happy to do away with the snow and welcome the many warm sunny days that are to come. My excitement for this year's growing season has also arrived. The opening of many local Farmer's Markets are right around the corner, and I can't wait to come home with bags full of freshly picked, leafy greens and berries (sometimes with the dirt still on them), and locally made bread and cheese. On top of that, it's a great place to run into friends and all the other wonderful people who are seeking out the same things you are -- fresh delicious food!

If you've never been to Farmer's Market, it's a great way to help support local agriculture and be involved with your community.  Not to mention, you can find some really great deals! At first, it might seem that the prices aren't that different from those of local supermarkets.  But, when I consider how much food I am actually getting for my dollar, how the food was grown, and that I am helping local farmers, I think I am getting a much better deal than I could ever come across at a  grocery store. One awesome advantage to Farmer's Market is that if crops are plentiful, then you will be getting a lot of food without having to spend a lot of money. A $3 bag of spinach (when in season) is filled with much more than $3 worth. Not to mention, it's freshly picked! And when strawberries and rhubarb are in season, well I bet you can guess what happens-- endless batches of strawberry rhubarb pies and crisps. It's simply too great of a deal to pass up.

So, Reason Number 1 For Going to Farmer’s Market: You can get a lot of great food without spending too much money.

Also, by eating what's in season, you're giving yourself the chance to sample from a wide variety of foods that you might not have otherwise thought about. I love  knowing that what I am eating is in season, and that it is often grown by the  very farmers that are selling me their food. Since my first trip to Farmer's Market, I now eat and cook with a much wider variety of produce than I had previously, and I've developed a sincere appreciation towards freshly picked food.

So, Reason Number 2 For Going to Farmer’s Market: Exposing yourself to a wide variety of in season produce, and possibly gaining inspiration to incorporate new food into your daily dining routines.

If you're interested in visiting your local Farmer's Market, but don't know where to find it, check out localharvest.org to find one in your area.

Another great way to take advantage of all the local agriculture in your area is to purchase a farm share. In most instances, to buy a farm share, you pay the farmer a set amount of money ahead of time for all of the food you will be getting throughout the year. Once the farm you choose starts yielding crops, you'll receive weekly boxes of fresh fruit and produce. Basically, you are getting whatever the in season crops are for that period of time. And if you divide the cost of the farm share over the total number of weeks that it spans, you really are getting a great deal. A lot of farms even have programs where work exchange can be done in return for a lower cost of your farm share, and most farms also offer sliding scales for low-income families, so many people are able to find a share that meets their monthly budget. Make sure to check out what farm shares are available in your area. Like Farmer's Market, a farm share can be an affordable way to eat fresh, locally grown, produce, and it is  another way to help support your local farmers.

Localharvest.org also has a great deal of information about farm shares and Community Supported Agriculture. It provides a general overview of what it means to be part of a CSA, and it can help you find local farms in your area that offer seasonal and year round farm shares. If you are interested, hurry up! Farmers only have so many shares that they can sell, so you don't want to risk missing out.

Another Great Way to Eat Fresh Produce This Year-- Grow Your Own Food!

Growing your own fruits and veggies can be very fun and rewarding, but it's also a great way to save money. Something as simple as growing your own tomato plants could translate to big savings on your weekly and monthly grocery bills.  If you are interested in growing your own food, it's time to start thinking about where and what you want to plant. If you don't have a lot of space, consider purchasing (or even building your own) container planter. A container planter is usually a raised wooden bed that can serve as a garden plot if you are short on land or just enjoy convenience. Simplyplanters.com offers a wide selection of planters at reasonable prices. If you're not sure how to start your garden or what plants do best in your area, there are endless online resources available to help you: thegardenhelper.com and bonnieplants.com are just a few of the places you can start looking at for helpful gardening tips.

What to Do About too Much Produce

Whether you are frequenting your local Farmer's Market, taking part in a farm share, or growing your own fresh fruits and veggies, this is a great time to start thinking about what you will do if you end up with too much food! (Yes, that does happen more than you would think). When that happens to me, I run straight to the juicer. A juicer, although sometimes a bit pricey depending on the brand and model, is a fantastic money saver in the long run. If you start to realize that you won't have enough time to eat all your veggies before they turn, throw them in the juicer with an apple and some berries. Your taste buds will have the best juice experience imaginable. You can also throw in parts of vegetables from dinner that you might usually just toss: broccoli stocks are a great example. One of my favorite recipes for fresh juice contains leftover broccoli stocks, an apple, two carrots, and some berries. The possibilities for freshly squeezed juice are endless, and it's a great healthy alternative to store bought juice, which is often very high in added sugars and jam packed with other ingredients besides the name of the juice. So keep an eye out for sales on kitchen appliances. You might end up finding the perfect juicer for yourself.

So have fun this summer, meet new farmers, and eat lots of greens!

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