by Denise Healy
Most of us have enjoyed the taste of fresh produce grown in our own, or a neighbor´s, garden. There is simply nothing in the world like the taste of a ripe, warm tomato plucked from the vine, or corn just picked off the stalk. Apples taste better, crisp and sweet, right off the tree. And an afternoon spent berry picking is a treat for folks of any age or gender. The evidence of it can be found on berry stained fingers and grins.
My children regularly make a meal of the fruit or vegetables we grow in the small home garden we keep in the summer. They don´t care that they are eating something healthy; they just know it tastes good! Fresh fruit and vegetables taste so good (and are more nutritious) because they have been allowed to ripen on the vine, bush or tree.
But flavor is only one of the many benefits of fresh local produce. Nutrients are at their peak in fresh produce. Not having to be shipped long distances, produce grown in the community can be picked when fully ripe and not before. When produce is in the height of its season, it is also at its best price. Often, products grown on smaller family owned farms are certified organic. Another benefit to fresh local produce is the variety that can be found. Heirloom varieties and other unusual or lesser known types of produce are often grown on these farms. These add visual interest and color. Grocery stores sometimes carry unusual varieties and organic produce too. But, for the best produce the fresher it is, the better.
We are privileged to live in a climate and time in history when fresh fruit and vegetables are available year round. Grapes shipped from Chile, Christmas oranges from tropical Florida, pineapples from Hawaiiâ€”all are abundant. There are many fruit and vegetable choices to be had year round.
But did you know we have an abundance of agricultural growers/producers in the area, as well? We in Tuolumne County are especially fortunate to have an amazing assortment of venues for fresh produce. In the spring, Farmers Markets open in Sonora, Tuolumne, and Twain Harte. The farmer´s markets provide an opportunity for local farms (and artisans) to bring their offerings to sell to the public in one place. These farms produce everything from fruit and vegetables to fresh flowers. Beef, honey and eggs are all produced locally, too. Many also have specialty offerings such as jams and jellies, salsa, pies and even olive oil. Because of our Mediterranean climate we have seen an increase in the number of local grape growers and wineries in the area as well. If you can name it, you can very likely find it here.
Several of these local farms will deliver for a small fee. However, driving out to one can be a wonderful way to spend the day. Some farms offer food or refreshment that can be enjoyed on the property. Others offer grounds perfect for strolling. Farms that are “u-pick”- in which visitors can pick their own produce for purchase- are fun for the whole family. And the delicious reward for your work can be taken home with you. While the majority of the farms have definite growing seasons, more and more are stretching their seasons by adding seasonal offerings such as pumpkins in the fall and Christmas trees for the holidays.
All in all you´ll find there´s a lot to be gained by adding produce- fresh off a farm- into your diet, be it from a farmer´s market, local farm or roadside fruit stand. Fresher produce is more nutritious and has better flavor. Locally grown produce is often organic and can be delightfully unusual!
The latest slogan being promoted by nutritionists is to “eat the rainbow.” In Tuolumne County you don´t have to go searching to find it. The rainbow is right here in our own back yard!
For further information about farms in Tuolumne County go to
www.farmsoftuolumnecounty.org Or call the Master Gardener office at 533-5696. To get information about Certified Organic produce, you can contact the Agriculture Commissioner at 533-5691, or the Farm Advisor at 533-5695. And when you are at the local farmers´ markets, be sure to stop by the Master Gardener booth, where you can find plenty of information on home gardening, local produce and more. See you there!
Denise Healy completed the Master Gardener training program in December, 2007. She gardens with her family in Columbia.