Friday, August 31, 2012

When U-Pick local, you pick smart!

One of the healthy habits I have begun to adopt for my family is choosing local, in season produce. Unless you live in a tropical climate, there is a very good reason that pineapple at Christmas time cost you your first born child at the checkout. Here in the Pacific northwest, tropical produce does not grow very well without many other factors added in to create the optimal environment. It really is a waste of resources to urge a watermelon to grow when it just doesn't like the weather here. Of course there's always the option to truck it in from California or elsewhere, but we see a rapid loss in nutrients the longer the fruit or vegetable is off the plant. The way I see it, why eat a veggie if it isn't going to pack its maximum punch?

The kids and I have rather enjoyed ourselves this summer picking local organic blueberries and raspberries. It kind of goes back to what I was saying before about breaking the hold "city life" has on them. The best part? The kids got to see where their food actually comes from! It is important for children to connect their food to its source. This is one reason why picky eaters do so much better come meal time when they have picked the produce that goes into it.We are anticipating apple picking in October!


                        Local organic raspberries. First time my girls ever had to worry about cow pies...


 No matter where you live, a kitchen garden is possible. If you do not have a yard, consider container gardening. You would be surprised how easy and fun it is to grow your own food in pots on your back patio. Check out Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew for some great tips on how to get more veggie for your square foot. My husband and I put together a garden over on North Fort (JBLM) where we have been busy growing Swiss chard, carrots, lettuce, spinach, jalapeno peppers, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, and sweet peppers all summer. All that in two 4 ft x 10 ft plots, and there is so much room we didn't use! I have saved much of the Swiss chard by freezing it in individual freezer bags for use in soups and stews during the winter. Freezing is a great way to lock in nutrients from fresh picked produce. I hope to get my fall crops in the ground this weekend. I realize I may be a week or so late, but hopefully, the weather will hold out. If not, then I'll just have to use some of the tricks I found in Steve Solomon's book Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades.

                                                             Not bad, for my first haul!

If gardening just isn't feasible for you because of work or school, then be on the lookout for sales on local produce at the grocery store. Pears and peaches are in season here, so when I saw a sale on them (pears .58/pound, peaches .99/pound) I snapped up at least 5 pounds of each. Admittedly, the peaches were a bit bruised, but boy were they sweet! I cut off the bad parts off and sliced those bad boys up and put them in the freezer for use in smoothies, desserts, and shakes. The pears I intend to turn into glazed cinnamon pears and can in glass jars for use on the kids' ice cream. Yummy! In late July, early August, apricots were on sale at a local farm stand. I picked up a large basket that was overflowing with the little jewels, brought them home, and turned them into apricot preserves. We're pretty excited to see how it turned out as soon as the store bought runs out in the fridge.


(Pardon the technical difficulties; it would appear my phone is not interested in cooperating with pics today!)

This summer has afforded me my very first chance to actively participate in stocking up for the fall and winter. Seeing my freezer stocked with yummy fruit and veggies that I either grew myself or got a killer deal on gives me such a sense of accomplishment and well being. I know that I will not have to worry about selling my first born or forking over a kidney for my kids to have healthy produce through the winter. I still have quite a bit left to do, like turn all my tomatoes into salsa and spaghetti sauce, plus manage the fall veggies, but I'm really looking forward to it!

Not only does local produce benefit your health and wallet, but it also benefits your neighbors- the farmers who live to grow healthy food to share with others. Check out pickyourown.org for a list of U-pick farms near you. Localharvest.org has a list of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) to consider if you'd rather have someone else pick your veggies for you. In this type of agriculture, members of the community buy shares of produce from the farm, usually paying up front for a few weeks or an entire season. These farms work through the year harvesting seasonal produce, so don't expect pineapples for Christmas unless you live in an area where they grow year round. Finally, farmers markets are excellent places to immerse your children in local culture. Visit localharvest.org for a list of these unique markets that are near you.

U-Pick is one of the many fun and inexpensive activities that will engage your children at dinner time. Give it a try! You just might find that your picky little monster turns into a broccoli eating angel when she's had the opportunity to wash the garden dirt off of it herself!


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