Farm to Table: Timing is Everything

Eating locally and seasonally in Peoria is easy, especially in July.
by Ashley Thomas, MS, RD/LDN
Salad
A delicious salad featuring local ingredients: asparagus, chives and edible chive flowers from Hartz Produce; lettuce from Down River Farms; and beets from Hungry World Farm

It’s no secret that locally grown produce has exponentially more flavor than produce that travels here from afar. An heirloom tomato grown right here in Peoria is sweeter, juicier and far more satisfying than one that travels here from California or Mexico. Less time spent traveling from farm to plate means eating them closer to the time of harvest, the point at which flavor peaks. Once food is harvested, however, the clock starts ticking and flavor begins to fade.

The same holds true for nutrition. One study from Penn State University found that spinach lost 47 percent of its folate and 90 percent of its vitamin C eight days after harvesting. Most of the spinach available in our local supermarkets comes from California—roughly 2,000 miles away—spending five to 10 days getting from farm to plate. By the time you eat that California-grown spinach, the nutrient content (and flavor) has severely diminished. 

Another study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition supports eating both locally and seasonally for optimal nutrition. It found that broccoli grown locally and in season had 50 percent more vitamin C than broccoli shipped in from another country, out of season. Our modern food distribution system has made it possible for us to enjoy the same fruits and veggies year-round, but the time and distance required to transport them results in a less nutritious product.

Local Produce
Many of us want to eat healthier, but it’s hard if the vegetables don’t taste good. Locally grown veggies are hands-down the tastiest around, so start there.

Abundant Local Options
Eating locally and seasonally in Peoria is easy, especially in July. Our strong local food movement provides access to a plethora of nutritious produce you can purchase at local farmers’ markets, through a CSA share, or pick-up on demand directly from the farms themselves. 

Much of the produce at the farmers’ market comes from Down River Farm in East Peoria and Hartz Produce in Wyoming, Illinois. I highly recommend visiting these farms. It’s life-changing to see where your food comes from and to meet the farmers themselves; it helps you appreciate the food you eat on a whole new level. I like how Evan Barry of Down River Farm describes farming: “It’s a forced lesson in zen thinking. We don’t have control over Mother Nature, and it teaches us to be humble.”

Right now the farmers’ market is teeming with tomatoes, potatoes, sugar snap peas, snow peas, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, carrots, beets and kale. My mouth is watering just thinking of the bountiful stir fry I could cook up with these ingredients… or maybe some grilled zucchini and summer squash with an herby chimichurri. All these dark green and orange vegetables are begging to top off your cancer-fighting vitamin A stores.

If you can’t make it to a farmers’ market, stop by Sous Chef, the family-owned grocery store on SW Adams which sells produce from local farms. They also carry produce from one of the area’s oldest family farms, Spence Farm in Fairbury, run by seventh- and eighth-generation farmers Marty and Will Travis. Marty and Will run a food hub called Down at the Farms, which represents more than 60 family farms in central Illinois and helps connect local farmers to local buyers. You can order your groceries directly through the food hub, and they will source everything for you locally. 

Many of us want to eat healthier, but it’s hard if the vegetables don’t taste good. Locally grown veggies are hands-down the tastiest around, so start there. How can you fit even one locally grown vegetable into your life this week? PM

Ashley Thomas is a registered dietician and host of Cook With Me TV on Facebook. Visit facebook.com/cookwithmeTV for live cooking demonstrations every week

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