Evergreen Garden

Most people do not know that I spent most of my younger days on a large farm in rural North Carolina.  Although I would rather pass the time reading a good book under the shade of the trees instead of planting, harvesting, and taking care of the produce, I took a lot of the lessons I learned on the farm with me.  These "earthy" lessons spent a lot of time in the back of my brain until I became vegetarian.  In the eternal quest for healthy, better tasting fruits and vegetables, I started looking for a local farmers' market or CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) so that I could get all of the in-season goodies that my body loved and craved.  I have always preferred to dig into a bunch of blackberries or melon on a hot summer day than ice cream, and nothing is more comforting to me than a homemade pumpkin pie.

Most people do not know that the Earth produces all of the foods in season that your body needs in order to thrive, and what better way to experience Earth's bounty than searching for that perfect ingredient from stall to stall in a farmers' market.  I remember waking up before the crack of dawn once a week during the summer to schlep produce to the farmers' market to sell.  My sister and I would eat sandwiches for breakfast in the bed of the farm truck after waking, and then we were each given a little bit of money to buy that perfect piece of fruit to finish off the morning.  We would walk from truck to truck talking with each farmer about what was best this week, tasting samples right off the blade of a pocket knife, and always coming back with more goodies than we actually had money to buy.  Little did we know that we were being taught the entire time.  We were learning about our community, how to count money, the value of a dollar, and the rhythm of the Earth.

When our little cousin came to live with us after the death of her mother, I tried to find a way to connect with this new stranger.  What could I offer her that no one else could?  How could we bond while still learning?  I immediately thought of the farmers' market again.  So, each Saturday, she and I would head out early in the morning to embrace the knowledge that we could only gain from the farmers' market.  Each visit, I would give her $5 to buy the fruits, vegetables, and sweets that she wanted and loved.  Soon, this picky eater was spending money on pumpkin bread, cherry tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peaches, and cucumbers.  Score!  She had to spend her own money and is learning to count change.  Score!  She is learning that you need to support your local farmers who in turn reinvest in the community itself.  Score!  She learned that you can build a relationship with the members of your community who remember that you are allergic to nuts and always keep a special nut-free muffin on hand just for you.  Score!  And, she is constantly trying new foods and is learning how to pick the best of the crop.  Score!  Now, we are learning to use our weekly "loot" to make dishes from scratch...which she is more willing to eat since she helped with the picking of the produce.  Score!  Each week is a new adventure and she enjoys waking up early to go with me to the farmers' market instead of watching Saturday morning cartoons.  Score!

As soon as we began cooking with very fresh produce, we soon learned that we needed more than just salt and pepper to flavor each dish.  So, once we moved to the country, I started a fresh herb garden.  My cousin is as excited about the garden as I am, and she can now name each herb by its appearance and scent. (Not to mention the fact that she enjoys picking, cutting, and cooking with the herbs.)  I have not gotten around to planting my own produce, but that will eventually come as well.   Until then, I will be perfectly happy plopping down my money every week to help my own health and the health of my family, spice up our meals with a wide variety of produce, and invest in our local economy.  So, before delving into the world of our gardening, I would like to repost an article on the importance of eating local.  The benefits far outweigh the costs and I sincerely hope that everyone enjoys the experience as much as my family and I.

Danielle purchases pumpkin bread from the Greensboro Farmers' Curb Market.

Danielle picks the perfect pumpkin, not for carving but for making stuffed sugar pumpkins.


Why―and How―to Shop at a Farmers’ Market  by Candi Gianetti for www.realsimple.com

1. You know what you’re getting. When you buy produce from the supermarket, it’s hard to tell where the produce came from, what chemicals or pesticides may have been used in growing it, or what labor practices the growers employ, says Erin Barnett, director of LocalHarvest.org, a website that connects consumers with organic, sustainable, and local farms. Buying directly from the farmer allows you to ask questions. Exactly how old is the produce? Did it ripen on a vine or in a truck? And if you’re the show-me type, the farms are close enough to visit.

2. The food is fresher. Many fruits and vegetables at the supermarket are picked before they’re fully ripe so they can survive the journey from the farm to your table―which can take as long as two weeks. Local farmers, on the other hand, can wait to pick produce at its peak, so you get the maximum taste, nutritional value, and freshness.

3. You help the environment. Buying at the farmers’ market reduces grocery-store-packaging waste and the energy used for lengthy refrigerated storage.

4. You support local farmers. Only about 25 to 30 cents of every dollar that you pay for fresh produce at a market goes to the grower. By buying direct, you help farmers get a fair price, which in turn, helps them stay in business. What’s more, you’re keeping your food dollars in your local economy. 

What to Know Before You Go to a Farmers’ Market

  • "There are many fantastic things at the market, so don't stick to your shopping list or you're going to miss out on all the best stuff," says Christine Farren, communications manager of the Center for Urban Education About Sustainable Agriculture, which runs the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, in San Francisco. Instead, talk to the farmers to find out what's freshest right now.
  • Take a taste of any available samples, including the misshapen tomatoes. "Unlike in the supermarket, diversity and flavor are paramount, not cosmetic perfection," says Farren.
  • Bring a tote bag, because you'll cut your trip short if a plastic bag full of potatoes is digging into your hand.
  • For the best selection, go as soon as the market opens. On the other hand, if you're making pies, sauces, or other recipes that don't call for blemish-free produce, go at the end of the day to scoop up damaged goods, which are usually marked down, says Amy Nicholson, a farmer from Geneva, New York, who sells fruit at several farmers' markets in her area. 

Can’t Get to the Farmers’ Market? Try a CSA

Join a CSA (community-supported agriculture) and you will have access to a steady flow of fresh food and get satisfaction from supporting local growers.

How CSAs Work

CSAs are subscription programs. Members make an agreement with a farm (usually small and often organic) to pay a set amount in advance for a regular supply of the farm’s produce, eggs, and other products, like flowers and cheese. In effect, you cover a portion of the farm’s operating expenses (seeds, labor, and so on) in return for a share of the harvest. Since CSAs started in the United States in the 1980s, the concept has taken off. Today there are more than 2,000. Although each one has its own rules, here are the main options.

  • You pay either up front for the whole growing season or a monthly or weekly charge.
  • Each week you pick up your food at the farm or a distribution point in your neighborhood. (Some farms will provide a weekly delivery service to your door, though the cost may be more.) Along with your produce shipment, most CSAs provide recipes and cooking suggestions in case you need ideas about what to do with the kohlrabi or the parsnips in your basket that week.
  • You receive a set basket of items depending on what is being harvested at a particular time, but you may be able to pick and choose at the distribution point.
  • You may be asked or given an option (sometimes for a discounted share) to put in a few hours of work on the farm or at the distribution point.

The Cost

CSA shares can cost from $300 to $1,000, depending on the length of a region’s growing season and the range of products that a farm cultivates (which may include meat, flowers, and cheeses), among other factors. In addition to offering possible savings over what you would pay for organic produce at a supermarket, belonging to a CSA gives you the convenience of a regular delivery of extremely fresh fruits and vegetables, the pleasure of helping the people who grow your food, and a sense of community. If a full share would probably yield more produce than your family can use, many CSAs also offer half shares, or you can split a share with a friend (which also means you can swap beets for kale one week and melon for plums another).

To find a CSA near you, go to localharvest.org/csa, where you’ll find a locator, as well as grower profiles, prices, and contact information.

Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

For the best tool for learning what fruits and vegetables are in season, along with ways to buy, store, and prepare, then check out the following link for a very user-friendly "click-able" tool.

When to Buy Organic?

I know, I know, buying organic foods in this economy is very expensive.  In fact, just shopping for groceries at all is enough to break the bank, even if you aren't on a tight wallet.  But what foods are worth the splurge for organic varieties, when less expensive, commercial food is literally on the same shelf?  The following produce has been labeled "The Dirty Dozen" by the Environmental Working Group for the amount of contaminant residue found in each. However, this list does not include foods which are not produce.  So, use your best judgement when buying foods, i.e. don't put more chemicals in your body than you actually need.  This includes baby food, milk, butter, and meat.

"The Dirty Dozen"
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
* all organic produce will begin with the number 4 on the sticker found on each bag, bunch, or piece of produce

The Natural Pantry

Have you ever wondered what staples one should have in your pantry in order to cook most whole, organic, or natural food dishes?  What would you include in your pantry staples?  Stocking your pantry doesn't mean having an endless supply of Chef Boyardee or ramen.  Stocking your pantry is solely for convenience's sake.  I would hate to have to run to the market for each and every ingredient that I needed to make a month's worth of food.  Luckily for us, the staff at www.wholeliving.com have compiled a list with the aid of top chefs that will allow you to cook a tasty, healthy meal for you and your family.  So, the next time you head out to the grocery store, print the convenient list provided on their site so that you will be prepared for your next healthy meal.  All you need to do is add the seasonal produce from the local farmers' market or CSA basket and you will have four star dinner in no time at all.


Fruits and Vegetables
  • in-season greens
  • frozen spinach
  • garlic
  • onions or shallots
  • organic citrus
  • tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • dried mushrooms
  • frozen fruit
  • artichokes
  • chile peppers
Herbs and Spices
  •  Dried thyme, sage, and oregano
  • Fresh parsley, basil, mint, or cilantro
  • Ginger
  • Curry spices (turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and paprika)
Nuts and Oils
  •  Almonds, walnuts, or pecans
  • Pine nuts
  • Organic olive oil
  • Grapeseed oil (for cooking and sauteing)
  • Walnut, flaxseed, or pumpkin seed oil (for finishing) 
Grains and Legumes
  •  Quinoa
  • Buckwheat soba noodles
  • Chickpeas, black beans, lentils, or kidney beans
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Wild, brown, or basmati rice
  • Spelt
  •  Mustard (Dijon, tamari, ginger, or rosemary blends)
  • Pomegranate molasses (for dressings and marinades)
  • Olives
  • Vinegar (balsamic or rice)
  • Whole-wheat breadcrumbs
  • Miso
  • Sea salt
  • Green tea
  • Hard cheese (Parmesan, grana padano, or pecorino Romano)
  • Plain yogurt
  • Low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • Fish sauce
  • Wine (red or white) 

*remember that this list can be tweaked for your preferences, tastes, allergies, and nutritional needs