Juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, sweet and creamy sweet corn. There’s nothing quite like the taste of fresh, vibrant, seasonal foods. When foods are grown locally and picked at their peak of freshness, they have the most flavor, most nutrition and are most enjoyable. However, in the northern prairie, we have a limited window of time to enjoy these awesome foods and flavors. Do you want to get the most out of the season of bounty? Here are some of my favorite tips!
1. Check Out the Farmers Markets
Shopping at your local farmers’ markets is a great way to know what’s in season, find foods at their peak of freshness and flavor, and–bonus–they are also a lot of fun! We are lucky to have a great selection of farmer’s markets across Fargo-Moorhead so you can shop almost every day of the week from about mid-June through October. Our website has a full list of opportunities to buy local, fresh foods around the Fargo-Moorhead area–including farmers markets, CSAs (community supported agriculture), restaurants, and U-Pick options.
2. Plant a Garden
Gardening is a fantastic way to not only make fresh, local food super accessible (what’s more local than walking into your backyard, right?), but it also makes you appreciate all the work that goes into raising food. If you’re new to gardening, consider starting small with a container or raised-bed garden. If you’re looking for an awesome group to garden with, join Growing Together: A Community Garden Ministry–a communal gardening program that offers weekly gardening times around the Fargo-Moorhead community. You work together to plant and tend the garden and share the harvest. Or if you’re already a seasoned gardener and looking to share the bounty, consider joining our Little Free Garden movement to make fresh, local produce available for those in need.
3. Try Something New but Start Small
I think people get a little excited when they get to the farmer’s market (particularly the first markets of the season) and end up buying more than they need. I like to encourage people to start small–particularly with foods you haven’t tried before. If you’ve never cooked with kale or swiss chard, buy a small bundle and commit to finding a recipe to try that week. The internet is full of amazing recipes you can search based on a certain ingredient. However, be leery. Not every internet recipe is high quality. Some of my personal favorite recipe websites are Bon Appetit, NYTimes Cooking, Cooking Light and Saveur.
4. Talk to Farmers
Farmers markets are not only a fun community event and a way to peruse a wide selection of local food. They are also awesome opportunities to talk to people who know the local foods better than anyone else–the people who grow it. As you’re shopping, ask the farmer what foods taste like and how they best like to prepare them. I am 100% certain that 100% of farmers eat what they grow.
5. Your Freezer is your B.F.F
Canning, freezing, pickling, fermenting–there are so many ways to preserve local goodness, but the easiest BY FAR is freezing. Most vegetables freeze quite well (with the exception of cucumbers and leafy greens), but most preserve better if you blanch them (briefly immerse in boiling water immediately followed by an ice bath). The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides the research-based guidelines for how to best freeze (and how to do all other preservation methods) to maintain the highest quality & safety for all your garden goodness.
Midwest Mediterranean: Finding Health & Flavor with the Foods of the North
Megan Myrdal is the co-author of Midwest Mediterranean, a book designed to introduce tactics for incorporating one of the world’s healthiest diets in America’s heartland.
6. Find a Great Seasonal Cookbook
Eating seasonally has become very popular and there are seemingly countless cookbooks that offer ideas for how to enjoy foods with the season. Check out the local bookstores for a wide selection of books to inspire your seasonal eating. One of my first cookbooks, and one I still use religiously to inspire my seasonal cooking, is The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a plug for Midwest Mediterranean: Finding Health & Flavor with the Foods of the North, a book I helped co-author with a fantastic group of food, health & farming experts. It celebrates the foods of the northern prairie blended with key techniques and ingredients of the Mediterranean. It also includes a wonderful collection of recipes!
7. Commit to your Veggies
If anyone is familiar with our work at Food of the North, you know that we HATE food waste. It’s part of our history and mission to educate people about the issue of food waste and tips to reduce it. One action that I really try to live by is to commit to my vegetables. When my tomato plants are in season, I will eat tomatoes for every meal–eggs with fresh tomato slices for breakfast, panzanella salads for lunch, BLT or tomato risotto for dinner. I like to think of it as a fun challenge to get really creative with a single food and not let any go to waste. However, it can get a bit excessive at times. If you get overwhelmed with the bounty, check out options to donate to local food pantries (Food of the North has a list here: foodofthenorth.com/donate-food), and remember to preserve what you can’t eat.
8. Involve the Family
I’m a passionate believer that getting kids involved with food and farming is awesome for their growth and development, as well as a fun, enriching activity for the whole family. If you’re planting a garden this year, talk to your kids about what they would like to grow. Purchase seeds, plot and plant the garden together. Shop together at the farmers’ markets. Pick a food together, talk to the farmer and discuss what you’re going to make with your purchase. Finally, get your kids in the kitchen! It doesn’t have to be every day but try committing to one day a week. It takes a little more work to involve kids, but try to see it as “the activity” for the day. Their smiles–and seeing them happily eat a fresh radish–is totally worth it!
Eating local is beyond nourishing your body–although it’s a great way to do that too. It’s a way to nourish your soul, support farmers, and enrich our community. Cheers to the season of bounty and happy eating!