Reap rewards of local produce

Sandra Ruan You are what you eat

November 8, 2013

With leaves falling and the weather cooling, the change of season means the harvest of fresh produce, including some of our fall favorites — pumpkin, beets, leafy greens and all sorts of squash.

Many people are surprised to find that a variety of crops are harvested in the fall, including apples, garlic, grapes, figs, mushrooms and squash and winter — citrus, kale, turnips, leeks — in addition to products that we associate with the summer like peaches, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, and green beans. With the luscious harvest of fall foods and the freshness in taste and quality, take advantage of food markets and eat local.

Locally grown crops not only support local communities and farming families, but the produce tends to be more affordable. When produce is in season, the relative abundance of the crop usually makes it less expensive. The greater in supply and demand of products usually means the lower in cost of goods. In addition to greater savings, the taste and quality of locally grown produce is better. Locally grown produce tastes better and is better for us. Food has traveled a shorter distance from farmer to supplier, and less nutrient degradation from packaging and transportation.

When food is not in season locally, it is either grown in a hothouse or shipped in from other parts of the country or world, and both affect the taste. Compare a dark red, sweet and ripened strawberry still warm from the summer sun with a winter hothouse strawberry that’s barely red, somewhat hard and too tart to swallow. When transporting crops, they must be harvested early and stored in cold refrigeration so they do not bruise during transportation. They may not ripen as effectively as they would in their natural environment and as a result they do not develop their full flavor. Foods lose flavor just as they lose moisture when stored for long periods of time. Fresh, locally harvested foods have their full, whole flavors intact, which they release to us when we eat them. Just remember, foods that are chilled and shipped lose flavor every step of the way.

Lastly, the fewer steps there are between your food’s source and your table the less chance there is of contamination, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms. When you know where your food comes from and who grows it, you know a lot more about that food.

Support your local farmers and eat fresh.

Sandra Ruan is a dietitic intern at Southern Regional Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. She is the daughter to Mei and Yang Ruan, owners of the Golden Run Restaurant in Laurinburg and the sister of Lilly Ruan, owner of Miyako Japanese Restaurant.