Locals Get Fresh

   Once upon a time, grocery shopping was so easy. You made your list, went to the store, picked up what was on your list, paid, and went home. It is not so simple anymore. We are faced with numerous choices, especially when it comes to produce. Conventionally grown, organically grown, pesticide-free, imported, locally grown. A tomato is no longer just a tomato. The health of your family seems to hang on your choice, not to mention economical impact, and political mumbo jumbo. So what is the best choice? The greenest choice? To find an answer, we must first  fully comprehend the question.
   Let's begin by taking a look at our various produce choices. Conventionally grown means that these fruits and veggies have been grown using synthetic chemicals such as pesticide and fertilizers and they may have been genetically modified. Taking that scary information one step further, when a sign states that the produce has been grown conventionally in, say, Mexico, you are looking at veggies that may have been grown using pesticides and chemicals that have not been regulated in any way by the FDA. In case you were wondering, when you eat this conventionally grown produce you are, indeed, ingesting these chemicals. You and your children are eating small doses of pesticides with every bite of your delicious squash casserole. Conventionally grown produce is also commonly irradiated to prolong its shelf life and kill bugs. This means that your spinach may be exposed to low levels of radiation to make it last longer than it should. Now the FDA has approved even higher levels of radiation exposure in hopes of controlling food borne illnesses. If all this doesn't encourage you to buy organic produce my guess would be nothing will.
   So is organic the best choice for you and our environment? Yes and no. In order for that bag of spinach to be labeled "organic" it must meet several stringent guidelines. In order for a farm to be certified organic it must be free of chemicals for three or more years; there must be no synthetic chemical input, irradiation, use of genetically modified organisms, or use of sewage sludge; there must be detailed written production and sales records; organic produce must have a strict physical separation from non-certified produce; and there must be periodic on-site inspections. Sounds like the perfect farmland environment for our health and the health of our children. However, organic farming is a lot more expensive and it is tough for small farms to survive the three year process before they can benefit from the certified organic label. Also, most organic produce, at the moment, is imported from places like California. That means a lot more fossil fuel is burned for that produce to be transported 3,000 miles to our local grocery stores. We consumers are in quite a pickle. Should we eat produce that is, in essence, laced with poison or eat organic fruits and veggies that are imported, thus contributing to depleting our natural fuel resources and damaging our local economy?
   Fortunately, Beaufort County now offers a best of both worlds solution. Through our local Farmer's Markets and the new Wholesale Auction Market we can buy incredibly fresh pesticide-free produce. When we buy directly from the farmers all kinds of great things happen. First, we have access to top quality produce that is picked and sold the very next day. We get wholesale prices because we are not having to pay for transporting food up north only to have it distributed to the supermarket and marked up for retail sale. We can communicate directly with the farmers and learn about their growing methods. The farmers benefit from direct payment and can more easily transition from conventional to organic farming with this type of local support. Best of all you will discover what an incredible farming community we have right here in the Lowcountry.
   I generally think of this coastal area as a vacation mecca; sun, sand, ocean, tennis and golf. I was amazed to discover the high quality and abundance of farmland in our county. We are endowed with 250 frost free days and the USDA stipulates our soils, when well managed, are among the most abundant in the region. The result is a veritable cornucopia of seasonal fruits and veggies made available to us by our local farmers.
   We are lucky to have extensive Farmer's Markets in three locations. On Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings there is a flourishing market at Heritage Park beside the Naval Hospital in the town on Port Royal near Beaufort. Here on the island we have a fabulous market in Shelter Cove on Thursday mornings and Thursday afternoon it is only a short drive to the Oyster Factory in Bluffton where yet another market is hosted. These Farmer's Markets boast over 25 participating vendors selling a wide variety of pesticide-free and organic produce at great prices.
   The Small Farmer Wholesale Auction is located in Ridgeland in the newly renovated Jasper County Farmer's Market Building on 9935 S. Jacob Smart Boulevard. Every Monday at 3pm and Thursday at 9am we now have an opportunity to buy larger quantities of fresh produce. There are no special requirements to gain access to this incredibly affordable wealth of goodies. Just a SC driver's license and a passion for all that is good for you. You may find yourself rubbing elbows with some of the top chefs in the area as this is a huge draw for restaurants that want to provide their customers with the best seasonal produce around. Before bidding on the items, farmers state the grade of the produce and whether it is organic or free of synthetic chemicals and pesticides. Because of the larger quantities sold this is an ideal market for cooks who enjoy canning, buying the ingredients for a party menu, or divvying up, say, a flat of blueberries among friends and neighbors.
   The next time you are at the supermarket desperately trying to find a peach that actually smells like a peach or a zucchini that isn't waxed to artificial perfection, remember the many local forums that avail to us an array of naturally, seasonally grown fruits and vegetables. Buying from the local Farmer's Markets and the Wholesale Auction supports our local economy and supports the small, independent farmers that are transitioning to organic growing. It preserves our fossil fuel resources by cutting down on the need to import from across the country and over the border. We save money. And best of all, we get to tickle our taste-buds with produce that is as safe and healthy as it is delectable. It is the very definition of green groceries.

Leave a comment

You are commenting as guest.