Farmers markets: Shop local, eat well | TheUnion.com

Farmers markets: Shop local, eat well

Fresh and organic vegetables at farmers market

Whether you are looking for something new and different to liven up your menu or just prefer the robust flavor and freshness of produce picked at its peak, Nevada County farmers markets have something for you.

Supporting local farmers markets has many benefits, including nutritional and economic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 85 percent of farmers market vendors travel fewer than 50 miles to sell their goods. That means the vast majority of the items found at farmers markets are locally sourced.

This is not only good for the local economy, but it also means the consumer is buying produce just a day or two after it's picked.

Compare that to supermarkets, where produce can travel more than 1,000 miles and can be 7-14 days old before it's purchased.

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Produce that is made available at peak freshness not only tastes better but, according to the USDA, also provides better nutritional content. The vitamin and nutrient profile of fresh fruits and vegetables tends to decline the longer it sits after being picked.

Shopping at the farmers market can yield positive benefits for the whole family. Researchers at Harvard University studied Boston families who were new to shopping at their local farmers market.

After just a few months, the families reported that their children's vegetable intake had increased by 12 percent and their soda consumption had decreased by 25 percent.

More than a third of the families studied said they were motivated to continue shopping at the farmers market because of their kids' increased willingness to eat more vegetables.

If you are new to farmers markets or just looking to make the most of your next visit, here are some suggestions.

Taste the flavors: Because the produce is so fresh, the flavors may surprise you. If there is a certain type of produce that you thought you didn't like, ask a farmer if you can sample it. The freshness may make a big difference. Farmers are also great resources for recipes and tips on how to prepare their produce to maximize flavor.

Shop the rainbow: One of the best ways to ensure that you are eating a wide variety of nutrients is to eat a wide variety of colors. While you're shopping at the market, seek out produce of different colors. It's a great way to try new items while also boosting your nutritional intake.

Look beyond produce: Most farmers markets offer more than just fruits and vegetables. Often some of the best "finds" are meats, cheeses or ready-to-eat items, prepared with the products of local farms. Local honey, fresh jerky, homemade yogurt — all of these items can be found at local markets. Just remember to bring a cooler for any items that may need refrigeration.

Plan ahead: To make the most of your visit to the farmers market, plan to be there early in the day. The best items tend to sell out quickly. Also come prepared with plenty of reusable bags and small bills ($1 and $5 bills are always handy).

Bring the kids: Make shopping at the farmers market a family excursion. Ask your kids to find new fruits and vegetables they'd like to try. Encourage them to talk to the farmers about what they grow and how they grow it.

When you get home, have them help clean and prepare the produce. Research shows kids are more likely to try new foods when they have a hand in choosing them.

By shopping at the farmers market, you not only support local farmers and keep the money you spend on food closer to home, you also are taking an active step toward a healthier diet. Consider a trip to the farmers market an investment in the community and in your own health.

Local Farmers Markets

Summer Market

Saturdays: 8:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Union St., Downtown Nevada City

Western Gateway Park

Thursdays: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

18560 Penn Valley Drive, Penn Valley

Thursday Night Market

Thursdays: 5:30 – 9 p.m.

Downtown Grass Valley

Historic North Star House

Saturdays: 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

12075 Auburn Road, Grass Valley

Pine Creek Shopping Center

Tuesdays: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

650 Freeman Lane, Grass Valley