Supplement to “Growing Organic”
Though there’s no beating the taste of veggies that go right from the garden plot to the dinner plate, most people don’t have the space—or the know-how—to grow their own produce. Fortunately, Kentucky’s farmers do, and organic farmer David Wagoner of Three Springs Farm in Carlisle says there are ways shoppers can pick quality produce, even from supermarket shelves.
“The very best way for consumers to pick quality produce is to have the farmer do it for them,” says Wagoner. “But there are some general tips they can use when buying produce from stores.”
Use it or lose it: Red, ripe tomatoes are a real find in supermarket produce departments, especially after the local growing season has passed. But unless they’re destined to star in that evening’s salad, choose those that need a few days on the windowsill instead. “Consumers often make the mistake of choosing ripe fruits and vegetables when they don’t intend to use them right away,” says Wagoner. “By the time they do use them, they may be overripe or may have lost their flavor. It‘s good to have a plan before going shopping for produce.”
Don’t be deceived: Just because that head of broccoli or bunch of grapes is picture-perfect to the eye, does not mean your taste buds will agree. Many fruits and vegetables are treated with preservatives to help them survive the trip from grower to supermarket. As a result, these foods may not taste as good as they look. Bright yellow bananas, for instance, may look inviting, but may lack taste thanks to chemicals introduced into their packing crates. Organic foods, with small brown spots or freckles, may deliver better taste.
Size matters: Bigger, or smaller, isn’t always better. In fact, Wagoner says, size has little to do with taste. Use of the vegetable or fruit should be the deciding factor, he says. For example, particular recipes might call for tiny zucchini, but larger ones will feed a larger crowd more economically (just don’t choose very large overgrown ones).
Embrace each season: Our grandparents wouldn’t dream of enjoying a watermelon in December or an ear of sweet corn in February. But now that retail chain grocers stock their shelves from global produce markets, it is possible to purchase out-of-season produce year-round. However, that luxury takes a toll not only on consumers’ pocketbooks, but on produce freshness, since out-of-season fruits, veggies, and fresh herbs can travel as many as 1,500 miles from the field to local supermarkets.
The solution, says Wagoner, is to learn to enjoy the bounty of each season in its own time. Superior taste and quality make waiting worthwhile.
To read the Kentucky Living January 2007 feature that goes along with this supplement, click here: Growing Organic