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Farmer's Market opens this weekend

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Have you ever stood in the middle of the supermarket and felt overwhelmed by the numerous choices available to you as an American consumer? A dear friend of mine is a missionary in China. She has lived in a city of over one million, but until recently, had to purchase her food from local markets. When she returns to the United States on furlough every few years, her hardest adjustment is the abundance of food choices available to her. I was very interested to learn that my friend actually misses the trip to the local market where she establishes a relationship with the vendor, learns the source of her produce and meat and is aware of where and who it came from. Although convenience is less, freshness is at its peak. She used to be a very picky eater, but now she has tried many vegetables she wasn't even aware of in the United States.

In this day of our changing economy, shopping the local farmer's market may become more of a necessity to us in Hopkins County. There are several ways shopping locally can benefit us: local farmers are supported, energy for shipping is saved, land is left open for growing crops, produce doesn't lose as many nutrients, the flavor of produce is at its best, and children learn more about what they are eating.

Investing in our local economy is always a good thing. Growers who sell produce to large markets earn only about 18 cents on the dollar for items sold in stores. Farmers who sell in local markets can earn up to 90 to 100 cents per dollar. According to the USDA, the U.S. has lost over five million farms since 1935. Family farms of all kinds are going out of business at breakneck speed, causing rural communities to deteriorate.

Although shopping at a farmer's market may seem more expensive up front, it can turn out to be cost saving. By purchasing in season produce, you will save the cost of shipping those items to your town. Also, if an item is fresher when you purchase it, it is going to last longer in storage. It is also healthier and reduces money you might spend in the future on medicines and remedies.

Did you know that a great deal of the produce in your local store comes from more than 1,500 miles away? We have been so spoiled to having our produce any time of year that grocers must now ship in vegetables and fruits from around the globe. Food miles are the distance and time food must travel from the farm, to the store, to your table. Food miles for items purchased in the grocery store tend to be 27 times higher than food miles for goods bought from local sources.

But that doesn't make all grocers the bad guy. Grocers are becoming more sensitive to the needs of their customers and have begun to purchase and advertise more local fruits and vegetables. In Texas we are fortunate that we can get almost any type of fruit or vegetable grown in Texas during certain times of the year. Even if we don't have an opportunity during the whole year to purchase items grown around Hopkins County, we can purchase items grown in Texas.

How can your health benefit from shopping at your local farmers market?

Vegetables and fruits contain phytochemicals, nutrients and vitamins. Phytochemicals can serve as antioxidants, enhance the immune system, cause cancer cells to die, and repair DNA damage caused by toxins. They and other nutrients and vitamins begin to deteriorate the minute produce is plucked from the tree, pulled from the ground and picked from the bush. Fresher is better where health benefits are concerned.

I am so excited that we will have our first official Farmer's Market downtown this Saturday. Not only will local produce vendors be available, we will also have local meat, dairy, honey, and baked goods. It will be a great chance for foodies to stock up, try new things and experiment. It is also a great place to introduce new foods to your kids. Children are more likely to try vegetables when they help with the purchase and preparation.

What will we possibly see at the market? According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, asparagus, beets, cabbage, a variety of lettuces, onions, peas, and spinach are spring vegetables currently in season. Texas citrus, potatoes and other root vegetables are ending their seasons, but could still be present at the market. We may get a sneak peek at some strawberries, too.

Personally, I am going to try some fresh beets, if available. My childhood experience with beets was rather lacking. I really only remember them as little purple squares on my cafeteria tray. I have learned in recent years, however, that I do like turnips, and friends swear that I would love fresh beets, too. I looked for some recipes to try next week and found a few that I think are interesting. In the next few weeks I'll share more ideas for cooking my other spring favorites; asparagus, sugar snap peas and strawberries.

Roasted Beets
Roasted beets are supposed to have a sweeter, deep flavor than their boiled counterparts.
Preheat oven to 375. Rinse beets clean and place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle beets with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, if you like. Fold foil over beets and seal package shut. Bake until beets are tender. The amount of time will vary with the size of the beets, number roasted and how fresh the beets are when cooked. The time can vary from 25 to 60 minutes. Let cool enough to handle, peel and use in salads, with butter or in other recipes.

German-Style Roasted Beet Salad

Roasted beets
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon horseradish
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
In a large bowl, whisk together the water, vinegar, caraway seeds, sugar, onion, horseradish, cloves, salt, pepper and oil. Add beets and toss to coat. Let stand for several hours, stirring occasionally. Serve at room temperature or chilled, as desired.

For more information about the Farmer's Market on Saturday, March 21, check out the front page of today’s News-Telegram or read one the beautiful posters you can find all over town. Come early, bring your own recycled bags or cloth bags, and have cash on hand because some vendors don't take credit or checks.

See you there!

For the past 20 years, Cindy Welch has been involved with all aspects of cooking, including formal culinary training, experience as food service director for First Baptist Church of Euless, a personal chef and owner of Cindy’s Casa Cuisine. Cindy’s favorite hobby is “providing delicious food for the people of Sulphur Springs.” Her columns cover all aspects of the cooking experience.



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