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Getting Ready for the Farmers' Market: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
Ciranna Bird | 07/07/2016
It's time to hit the farmers' market- let's come prepared!
Originally published in The Sweet Potato, the sustainable farm and food blog of the Carolinas.
Spring is here and it’s time to get fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products from your local farmers’ market! Some of these products get sold out quickly in the day, so arrive early and bring a cooler to keep your items cold while you do the rest of your shopping. Learn about the types of markets, questions to ask your farmer and practical ways to support your local farmers to ensure they can stay in business for years to come.
Market Type: What’s the percentage of growers vs resellers at your farmers’ market?
The first thing you want to know is your market’s ratio of growers, resellers, artists, and value added product vendors. Growers are the farmers that are selling plants, fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and eggs they have grown, raised and harvested. In contrast, resellers buy unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs from growers and resell these unprocessed products. Artists sell items they have created such as pottery, photography, flip flops, jewelry, candles, woodworking and soap. Value added product vendors use ingredients bought from growers and transform them via processes such as baking, canning, or juicing. Baked goods, juice, jams, pickles, dog bones, and lamb’s wool dryer balls are all value added products.
Each market has a different policy on the amount of booths occupied by non-growers. To learn about your market’s policy have a conversation with its market manager. You can do this prior to attending, or in person at the market manager’s booth. For this article, I interviewed Adrienne Hawkins, the market manager of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market. At her market, which is the largest independent non-profit farmers market in South Carolina, 50% of the Travelers Rest Farmers Market vendors are growers, 0% are resellers, 20% are artists, and 30% are vendors that make value added products from scratch and have at least one ingredient sown, grown and harvested within a 100 mile radius of the town. A market that has no resellers is great if you are looking to do your weekly grocery shopping and buy from local farmers. In case you are shopping at a market that allows resellers, here are some questions to ask the vendors.
Questions to ask your growers, more commonly known as your farmers:
1. Which products at your stand are the ones that you grew/raised/harvested yourself?
2. Where do you source these other products?
3. How many of the ingredients for this jam, bread, jar of pickles were sown, grown and harvested within 100 miles of here?
This past weekend, I field tested some of the following questions at my local farmers’ market. The best questions are open-ended rather than yes or no questions, because they allow the farmers’ expertise and passion to shine. When I mentioned my natural tendency to avoid making eye contact to the farmers I spoke with, I learned I’m not the only shopper who keeps their eyes glued on the fruit and vegetables until they know they are ready to make a purchase. The farmers reassured me that they enjoy the opportunity to share details about their work regardless of the customer’s ability to buy something from them on that particular day. Also, try to choose a time when your farmer isn’t swamped with customers; and remember that in order for them to stay in business, they must be able to attend to all the people at their booth.
Are these fruits and vegetables organic?
Organic produce certified by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the gold standard for shoppers concerned about soil fertility, the use of environmentally safe products, and the biodiversity of crops and animals. These vegetables and fruits are grown on soil that hasn’t been treated with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides for at least three years. The USDA certification assures you that your farmer has a written plan to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. The farm is annually inspected and maintains the following records: soil and water test results, pest and disease monitoring logs, tillage and cultivation logs, planting and harvest records, post-harvest handling and storage reports, field activity records, and product sales records.
It is important to note that there are not a lot of farmers at markets in the Carolinas that are organically certified by the USDA. In 2009, the North Carolina State University Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics conducted a Farmers’ Markets in Central North Carolina survey. Of the 75 farmers that responded only a small percentage certified organic produce (1). As of April 2016, the USDA Organic Integrity Database lists 133 farms in North Carolina, and 29 farms in South Carolina that are registered to grow organically certified vegetables and fruits (2). If the vegetables and fruits are not organically certified by the USDA, you can still ask the farmer about the following sustainability practices.
4. How many of your vegetables and fruits are grown from certified organic seeds and transplants?
5. How do you handle pests and weeds?
6. What motivates you to handle the pests and weeds in this manner?
Tips for buying eggs, dairy products, and meat at the farmer’s market.
If you have forgotten your cooler, ask your farmer if they would be willing to keep your purchased items in their cooled space while you finish shopping, checking out cooking demonstrations, and soaking in the community atmosphere of the farmers market. To prevent cross-contamination use a separate bag to hold your eggs, from the bag that holds your vegetables and fruits. Insider tips: Eggs sold at market in NC may not be washed (which is a good thing!) and still have a natural protective coating on their shells. Remember to rinse the eggs with warm running drinking water from your sink right before you cook and eat them. USDA certified organic meat, dairy or eggs has come from livestock that have received at least 30% of their nutrition from pasture with a minimum of 120 days of grazing per year; have been fed organic and non-genetically modified food, and have not been treated with antibiotics (3). Even if the meat, dairy, or eggs are not USDA organically certified you can ask you farmer about their practices.
7. What do you feed your chickens, pigs, lamb, goats, or cows?
8. What is your policy on the use of antibiotics or hormones?
9. How much access to the outdoors do your animals have?
Support the farmers who follow the practices you value.
Asking the questions above will help you find the farmers who maintain and improve soil fertility, conserve resources, manage pests in way that is safe for the environment, preserve and enhance biodiversity of crops and animals, and/or care for their livestock humanely. Here are follow-up questions to help them stay in business.
10. What’s the best way to stay in contact with you? (Facebook, e-mail, website, Instagram)
11. What farming associations or certification programs do you belong to?
12. Aside from buying your products, are there other ways I can support your farm?
You’ll be surprised on what fun activities your farmer may suggest. It may include posting pictures and positive reviews on the social media channels they use. In response to this question, I got a few invitations to become a farm hand for a day from in exchange for a tour. You can also join, volunteer and read newsletters from farming associations they belong to, in order to stay current with the issues they face. Now that you have plenty of questions to ask, get out to your local farmers’ market and connect with your farmers. To find the market closest to you, visit the NC Farm Fresh website or the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website.
- Renkow M, Georgiade, N. Farmer’s Markets in Central North Carolina: Who buys, who sells, and why. Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, North Carolina State University; 2011.
- https://apps.ams.usda.gov/integrity/ Organic INTEGRITY Database. Search conducted on April 8, 2016.
- US Department of Agriculture. Organic Labeling at Farmers Markets. USDA National Organic Program, Marketing Service; 2015. Pg. 1 https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Organic%20at%20Farmers%20Markets.pdf
The Big A: Antioxidants
Charlton Goodwin | 07/06/2016
You've probably heard of antioxidants and wondered what they do. Read on!
Let’s talk antioxidants, shall we? I, for one, had wondered for years what in the world antioxidants were. They sounded so refreshing when I would hear about them on a commercial advertising something really fresh, like cranberries. And they sounded so healthy because the commercial was about…well…cranberries. But many curious minds may often ponder what antioxidants actually do.
The cells in our body are made up of millions of molecules, which undergo a lot of stress from our body’s day-to-day survival functions. This natural stress causes our cells’ molecules to become damaged, thereby releasing free radicals. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that get broken off of their original molecule. Once released in the body, free radicals bounce around, damaging other cells and creating a cascade of more and more free radicals. This oxidative damage from free radicals in the body can be the trigger for a lot of abnormalities, such as premature aging, hardened arteries and even an increased risk for cancer.
So where do antioxidants come into play? Well, antioxidants are molecules that can stop this whole chain reaction by donating one of their own electrons to the free radicals. This tames the free radicals and prevents them from continuing to bounce around the body, causing damage. And NO, the antioxidant does not become a free-radical in this situation. It’s a win-win! How perfect!
So where can we get these antioxidants? The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues. The body cannot produce these micronutrients on its own and thus, we must supply ourselves with these antioxidants.
Here are some good sources of antioxidant vitamins:
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon
Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mango, nectarine, orange, papaya, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, tomatoes, and red, green, or yellow peppers
Vitamin E: broccoli (boiled), avocado, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach (boiled), and sunflower seeds
Hopefully this gives a pretty fair overview of what antioxidants are. There is so much that can be touched on regarding this fascinating subject, but I will leave it at this for now. Feed your body with foods rich in antioxidants. Your future self will thank you.
Easy Bean Tostadas
Lauren Wright | 07/01/2016
Beans are a nutritional powerhouse and taste great as tostadas.
I recently learned that July 3 is Eat Beans Day, so what better excuse to whip up a tasty, healthy bean-inspired recipe!
Beans are a nutritional powerhouse. They are naturally fat and cholesterol free and are full of antioxidants, fiber, and protein. Studies suggest that eating beans may reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers. Beans also have a low glycemic index, which means they take longer to digest and will not spike blood sugar levels. Additionally, beans are a great source of many different nutrients.
A half-cup serving of beans provides:
- 23-45% daily value (DV) folate
- 11% DV iron
- 24-36% DV fiber
- 14-16% DV protein
- 10% DV potassium
One of my favorite ways to prepare beans is in tostadas. Tostadas are a filling, meatless meal and they come together in a flash. They are perfect for busy nights when there isn’t much time to cook. We eat them a few times a month at my house, and we never get tired of them!
Traditionally, tostadas consist of a fried tortilla, topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles. You an also add sliced avocado, sour cream, etc. for extra toppings. With fried tortillas, cheese, and sour cream, tostadas might not sound like the healthiest weeknight dinner. But, with a few simple changes, it’s easy to lighten up this recipe.
For example, instead of frying tortillas, bake them until crispy in the oven. Sub part-skim or low-fat cheese in place of full-fat cheese. Then, instead of sour cream, try swapping in a low-fat, plain Greek yogurt.
Here’s my lightened-up tostada recipe:
6 small tortillas (corn or flour)
1 can low-fat refried beans
1 to 1½ cups low-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cups lettuce, shredded
1 cup tomato, chopped
¼ cup dill pickle relish
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup low-fat, plain Greek yogurt
- Preheat oven to 350F. Place tortillas on cookie sheet and brush lightly with oil. Bake tortillas for 4 minutes on each side or until crispy and lightly browned.
- Heat refried beans on stove top.
- When all the toppings are prepared and tortillas and beans are cooked, assemble tostadas. Spread refried beans on tortillas. Then sprinkle with cheese, lettuce, tomato, relish, avocado, yogurt, and hot sauce.
- Serve immediately.
Tips for Eating Organic Affordably
Laura Pyatt | 06/30/2016
Eating organic doesn't have to break the bank with these easy tips!
Originally published in the May issue of The Stew, a newsletter from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association.
One of my favorite activities is having friends or family over for a night of cooking, drinking, and eating together. Making and sharing food together creates a community that brings people closer, plus it’s just so darn fun.
However, cooking for a large group of people can be expensive, especially if you want to buy organic. I believe eating good food and sharing good company over food should not be cost-prohibitive. From my time working at the Durham Co-op Market and shopping on a shoe string budget when I was younger, I have figured out some more affordable ways to purchase nutrient-dense, organic food without breaking the bank.
I refuse to sacrifice quality (or a night of fun) because I don’t have enough money. When purchasing quality food on a budget, make sure to go for the products with less packing. That means they are less processed and usually less expensive. If your local co-op or grocery store has a bulk section, you are in luck! The bulk section is AMAZING; since you can buy just what you need, you’ll save lots of money. Usually a spice jar of cumin costs around $5, but if you purchase a few tablespoons in our bulk section, it runs less than a dollar.
Plus, purchasing in bulk aligns with our Co-op Basics Program. It is a line of everyday low price items that include many staple products you may normally stock in your pantry. The Basics include dried beans, grains, pasta, peanut butter, toilet paper, and more. Check your local co-op’s brand or their savings circular for similar deals. Buying these staple items at the Co-op will keep your costs low, since we do our best to keep the prices low!
Finally, eating seasonally is a great way to get high quality ingredients that don’t cost too much. If I buy strawberries now (since it’s strawberry season), they are way cheaper than if I bought them in November. In November, I should buy Clementines, since that’s their season! Currently, local NC strawberries are on sale at the Co-op, two 1-pound containers for $5. In November, they’d cost double that! We can keep the price that low since they are abundant this time of year, and the distributor saves on shipping costs, since they come from right down the road!
My favorite seasonal, organic, and budget-friendly dish to serve to people WHILE they are cooking is salsa. We all need a little something as we are preparing a big meal together, and salsa is a great crowd-pleaser to snack on. Plus, it’s full of fresh vegetables, so it won’t fill you up too much before dinner. I chop up all the vegetables before my dinner guests arrive. The salsa tastes best if you leave it sitting on the counter for an hour to let the flavors marry before you start snacking. Also, if you purchase a jar of salsa at the store, it usually run about $5 and only serves around 4 people. My salsa costs $6.60 TOTAL and serves at least 10. You may even have left-overs.
4 ripe tomatoes (~1 lb)
½ bunch of cilantro
½ onion diced finely (~1/2 lb)
1 jalapeño diced finely
2 cloves of garlic diced finely
Spices: salt, cumin, and chili powder
Total Price (these are based on the Durham Co-op Market’s current prices, subject to change with sales): $6.60 for a GIANT bowl of salsa.
Organic tomatoes are $2.99/lb= $2.99
Organic Limes are $0.79 each= $1.58
Organic Cilantro bunches are $1.39= $0.69
Organic Onions are $1.39/lb= $0.69
Jalapenos are $3.99/lb= $0.20
Garlic and spices= $0.45
The fun thing about this recipe is that you can add whatever seasonal fruit and/or vegetable to the salsa that you wish! I suggest mango for some sweetness, or cut kernels straight off an ear of corn for some crunchy texture! Serve with Late July Tortilla Chips.
Choosing the Best Organic Produce
Lauren Wright | 06/28/2016
We’ve all heard about organic foods and have seen them boldly advertised in grocery stores. But what’s the deal w...
We’ve all heard about organic foods and have seen them boldly advertised in grocery stores. But what’s the deal with organic fruits and vegetables?
Organic foods are raised without the use of many synthetic products, like pesticides and hormones, and the government has strict guidelines farms must meet in order to be labeled USDA Certified Organic. The movement has become so popular in recent years, organic farming has grown to a $43 billion dollar industry, according to the USDA.
Organic foods are useful for several reasons. For consumers wary of ingesting chemicals from the foods they eat, organics are a good chemical-free alternative. Next, organics cannot by law contain any genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which some consumers prefer to avoid. Lastly, organic farming practices can be better for the environment.
On the downside, growing organic foods requires more labor and more pricey government certifications, which means organics usually cost more at the grocery store. In addition, organic produce may not be available in all stores.
So what do you do if you want to eat organic but can’t switch your entire diet over to organics?
Every year, Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzes data from pesticide residue testing done by the USDA. Based on the results, the EWG makes a list of the produce with the most pesticide residue and the produce with the least residue.
This means, if you want to start making the switch to organic, consider using this guide to decide when to select organic and when to stick with conventional:
Choose organic when possible:
- Sweet bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
Stick with conventional:
- Sweet corn
- Sweet peas, frozen
The EWG has a pocket guide to these lists available for you to print and keep in your wallet here.
And remember, if the organic options are not available or are a bit too pricey, it’s always better to go with conventional produce than no produce at all! Either way, be sure to rinse all produce well before consuming.
It Pays to Meet Healthy at Work!
Hannah Walters | 06/23/2016
Adopting a healthy meeting and events policy supports good employee health!
Picture this: You arrive at work on Monday morning and your boss has surprised the staff with donuts and coffee for the weekly staff meeting. Later that day, you attend a lunch meeting at a partner organization. On the menu: pizza, cookies, and soda.
Sound familiar? This type of scenario is not uncommon in many workplaces. Meetings and events often involve food, and unfortunately the foods and beverages served are typically high in calories and sugar, and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like pizza and donuts as much as anyone. But, while once considered an occasional treat, these types of food have become far too routine in many of our diets. With two-thirds of South Carolina adults overweight or obese, and nearly half of our waking hours spent at work, South Carolina businesses have an important opportunity to create healthier work environments for employees.
Adopting a healthy meeting and events policy not only supports the health of employees; it sends the message that health is important to your organization, and sets a positive example in the community and state. Also, of note, studies show a strong relationship between the physical and social environments of the workplace and the health behaviors of employees. I know I feel a sense of relief knowing that any meetings or events that I attend at Eat Smart Move More SC will support my efforts to eat healthily–rather than derailing my diet!
What does a healthy meeting policy look like? Best practices typically include offering water and other no-calorie beverages, serving fruits and/ or veggies with every meal, providing physical activity breaks for meetings lasting longer than one hour, and hosting meetings in smoke-free facilities. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity has a great toolkit with other ideas to get you started.
Importantly, having healthy meetings doesn’t have to mean spending more money. While some healthy foods may be more expensive, many caterers and restaurants can make small adjustments (like grilling or baking rather than frying, substituting mayo- or cream-based sauces for a healthier alternative, etc.) that don’t cost more money and still taste great. Also, reducing portion sizes, ordering less food, and reducing waste, may end up saving money by reducing overall food purchases.
I encourage you to invite your CEO or HR director to join other South Carolina businesses by adopting a healthy meeting and event policy. Email me at Hannah@eatsmartmovemoresc.org if you’d like more information. Already have a healthy meeting policy? I’d love to hear from you, too!
What's in Season in SC This Summer
Lauren Wright | 06/20/2016
Summer officially arrives on June 20, and with it comes bountiful summer produce!
This week marks the first day of summer. Summer officially arrives on June 20, and with it comes bountiful summer produce!
Juicy peaches and perfectly ripe tomatoes are a great reason shop at your local farmers’ market or produce stand this summer. (You can find your nearest farm stand or market here!) Seasonal, local produce is picked at peak ripeness and has the best flavor and highest nutritional quality. Not only that, fresh produce bought locally can also cost less than conventional produce in the store, and you’re supporting a local farmer! With so many fruits and veggies in season during summer months, it’s easy to meet the recommended 5 servings a day.
According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, here’s what’s in season this summer:
- Beans- snap, pole, butter bean
- Yellow Squash
My personal summer favorites are watermelon and squash. I like to add chopped watermelon on top of salads with feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing. It’s an unlikely combo, but sweet watermelon with tangy feta is a summertime winner! For squash, I like to slice zucchini and yellow squash into medallions and sauté them in olive oil with red onion, garlic, and fresh dill. It’s a simple but tasty dish that I cook regularly throughout the summer.
The South Carolina Department of Agriculture has a great app to help you keep track of what’s in season. First, select the season to view what produce is available that time of year. Then, click on an item to view all of the local farms and markets selling that produce. Certified SC Grown also has a Pinterest page full of recipe ideas for all the different types of produce.
Use #LetsGoSC to share your own recipes and healthy living ideas on Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook.
7 Healthy Picnic Ideas
Lauren Wright | 06/16/2016
Nothing says summer like a picnic!
Nothing says summer like a picnic! In honor of National Picnic Day on June 18, it’s time to pack a cooler and a blanket and head outside. Here are some light, healthy ideas for you to serve at your next picnic.
For a quick and easy picnic, some fresh finger-foods are the perfect snack. They’re easy to prep ahead of time so you can simply pack them in a cooler.
- Fruity guacamole and chips: Avocados offer heart-healthy fats in addition to great taste! Stir in chopped pineapple or mango into guacamole for a sweet twist using the recipe below.
- Fresh veggies and hummus: Baby carrots, celery sticks, and cucumber rounds pair great with hummus. This combo is packed with protein and takes care of one serving of vegetables for the day.
If you’re looking to fire up the grill, there are many healthier alternatives to the traditional hotdogs and hamburgers for your main course.
- Shrimp: Shrimp are naturally low in calories and are great summer fare. It’s easy to make peeled shrimp into kebabs with veggies and pineapple, or you can wrap unpeeled shrimp in an aluminum foil packet to throw on the grill.
- Grilled chicken: Grilled chicken breasts are much lower in saturated fat than hamburgers. Marinate the chicken in a sealable, plastic bag with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. Once cooked, serve the meat as a sandwich on a whole wheat bun with all the traditional toppings.
- Quinoa salad: Quinoa is an ancient grain that cooks in a flash and is full of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Toss cooked quinoa with feta cheese, chopped cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and vinaigrette dressing. Serve this cool, healthy salad as side with your grilled picnic meal. (Unfamiliar with quinoa? Read more about it here.)
Every picnic deserves something sweet! Instead of cupcakes or cookies, try these dessert ideas instead.
- Fruit kebabs: Skewer your favorite summer fruits for a healthy, sweet treat. Watermelon, grapes, pineapple, and strawberries all make great kebab options. Serve with yogurt as a dip.
- Refreshing fruit popsicles: Blend fresh (or frozen) fruits with a splash of juice, yogurt, or milk. Pour into popsicle molds or small cups and freeze. Berries are always a great choice for popsicles, but get adventurous with your flavor combos, like strawberries and mint or mangos and coconut water.
With your menu planned, you’re ready to pack up some lawn games and bug spray and head outdoors. Enjoy your healthy picnic with family and friends!
Fruity Guacamole Recipe
yield: 1 batch
Juice of one lime
¼ tsp salt, or to taste
dash of pepper, or to taste
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
¼ cup red onion, chopped
½ cup mango or pineapple, chopped
1. Remove skin and pit from avocados. Place avocado in bowl.
2. Mash avocado together with lime juice, salt, and pepper until smooth, using a fork.
3. Mix in cilantro, red onion, and fruit. Serve with tortilla chips or chopped veggies.