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Freshly picked veggies at a farmer's market often pack more nutrients than produce sitting on supermarket shelves

Farmer's Markets and Growing Your Own Trump Produce the Grocery Store

Harvard Health Letters

What's better than fruits and vegetables from the supermarket? Those you buy from a local farmer or grow yourself. Frequenting a farmers' market or growing your own produce can give you a new relationship with food, and perhaps with people; be good for your heart and muscles; and help you eat more fruits and vegetables.

Up on the farm

Wandering through a farmers' market on a breezy summer day is a feast for the senses -- writer John McPhee captures this in his timeless essay, "Giving Good Weight." It is also a nutritious treat. The fruits and vegetables on sale have usually been picked that day or the day before. They are likely to pack more nutrients than much of the produce sitting on your supermarket's shelves. You are also likely to see varieties of produce you don't ordinarily run across in your grocery store.

Another way to enjoy fresh produce and support a local farm is to join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. These offer a bit of bucolic Wall Street action for folks interested in local food. You buy a share of the program. The farm gets an infusion of cash to help with spring start-up costs, as well as a predictable source of income. Your return on investment is a box of fresh-from-the-farm vegetables and fruits every week for the entire growing season.

Grow your own

For the ultimate fruit and vegetable experience, grow your own. The energy you invest in planting, weeding, watering, and the other tasks needed to help your garden grow will pay off for your heart, blood vessels, muscles, and mind. The bounty of your harvest, whether it's from a simple summer garden or a more elaborate three-season venture, is good for the taste buds and spirit.

If you don't have space for a garden but are itching to grow your own, look into joining a community garden. It could be a large plot that many people work on communally or many individual plots side by side, each with its own gardener.

Benefits beyond food

You get more than just fresh food from a farmers' market or garden. You soak up sunshine and make much-needed vitamin D. That's good for your bones, heart, immune system, and mood. The change in venue may help you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. A review in the March 2010 Journal of the American Dietetic Association indicates that shopping in a farmers' market can boost produce consumption.

There's a social aspect that is also healthful. A University of California-Davis study showed that social interactions were seven to 10 times more likely at farmers' markets than supermarkets. And by their very nature, community gardens are likely to promote conversation and connection. A growing body of research indicates that social networks and interactions are good for physical and mental health.

Finally, shopping in a farmers' market or growing your own produce may be good for the health of your community and the planet. Both help decrease the amount of fossil fuel needed to transport food and protect fast-dwindling open space.

It's a win-win situation, from your taste buds to your carbon footprint.

To find a farmers' market or community garden near you, these Web sites have interactive online maps that list locations by ZIP code:

--Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org) for farmers' markets.

--American Community Gardening Association (acga.localharvest.org) for community gardens. - Harvard Heart Letter


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