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Local Produce: Hip and Healthy

Today’s marketplace allows us to buy foods grown worldwide, year-round. But it’s not hard to see the value in local, regional and seasonal food. This is sustainable eating. By choosing foods grown closer to home and in season:

• You reduce the environmental impact caused by shipping foods thousands of miles.

• Your food dollars go directly to the farmer.

• Your family will be able to enjoy the health benefits of eating fresh foods.

Not surprisingly, fruits and vegetables are  most flavorful and affordable when they are in season. Find out what’s in season in your area at which time of year. Summer is a great time to enjoy the bounty of fresh, delicious food.

Here are four ways to join the sustainable foods bandwagon.

1. Buy foods made close to home. Buying food in season from area producers and distributors keeps the money in your community. Many supermarkets have locally grown produce sections. You can find local dairies (most milk travels less than 100 miles from farm to table), bakeries, ethnic food stores and other

locally owned outlets in the phone book, on message boards or online.

2.Shop at farmers’ markets.

Local food is usually fresher because it doesn’t have to be picked long before its peak ripeness so that it can be shipped. If you buy in season at farmer’s markets, you’ll probably save money. Farmers are usually happy to answer questions about their practices. Some may share information about their harvest calendar to give you a jump on when the freshest produce will come to market.


• Find the closest CSA to you. 

• Use the Natural Resources Defense Council's online tool to find out what's in season near you.

•To search by zip code for farmer’s markets near you, use the USDA National Farmers Market Directory Search Engine.

3. Join a CSA.  Developing a personal relationship with a local farmer can go one step further with a harvest box from a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm. A CSA farm will sell you a share of its produce for the growing season at a flat rate. You get a box each week with whatever is freshest on the farm. CSAs have become popular, and many have long waiting lists. Some people share harvest boxes to save money. If you can afford the up-front investment, you’ll have a bounty of fresh fruits and veggies — all year if you preserve, dry and can. 

4. Grow your own! Planting seeds, seedlings or other edible living things in and around your home is a great way to have fresh, delicious food on hand. Plus, it’s cheap. Seed packages start at less than a dollar. Soil or compost can be purchased or found at local township sites. Growing your own food requires an investment of time, watering during dry weather and little else.

Growing your own food can be a fun family activity. Rewards include spending less time and money at the store, having fresh ingredients on hand, understanding the seasons, and for your kids, making the connection between their food and its source.

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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