New York Local Foods: First Vegetables in Season Now!

You know that spring has really arrived with the onset of warmer weather and when some early-season local vegetables become available at your farmers’ market.

Locally-produced asparagus, kale, lettuce and other greens are now available in most farmers’ markets. These and other vegetables and fruits are almost always fat-free, extremely low in sodium, and cholesterol-free.

Asparagus is exciting, because it is usually the first fresh local item that we see. This wonderful vegetable is high in vitamins A, C, and folate. In addition, it is low in calories and tastes great! A simple internet search can show there are many ways to cook and lots of recipes for this excellent vegetable. To choose ripe asparagus in the market, look for odorless stalks with dry, tight tips. Do not choose limp or wilted stalks. You can refrigerate asparagus for up to 4 days by wrapping the ends of the stalks in a moist paper towel and putting them in a plastic bag. Asparagus can also be frozen and canned.

Another excellent vegetable available now is kale. The local kale you see now has been overwintered, and was planted in the fall. Kale is a leafy green vegetable that is in the Brassica family, with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and turnips, among others. Kale is loaded with nutrients. It is extremely high in Vitamins, A, C, and K. It is also high in magnesium, iron, calcium, and Vitamin B6. It is a prime cancer-fighting food because of its high concentration of antioxidants and detoxifying enzymes. It contains the phytochemical lutein, which is known to help prevent eye diseases and some other cancers, including breast cancer. And it tastes great! Kale is usually boiled or fried as a cooked green. Younger, tender leaves can be used fresh in a salad. Many recipes can be found online. Look for kale with firm, deeply colored leaves and moist hardy stems. The leaves should look fresh, be unwilted, and be free from signs of browning, yellowing, and small holes. To store, place kale in a plastic storage bag removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. Store in the refrigerator where it will keep for 5 days. The longer it is stored, the more bitter its flavor becomes. Do not wash kale before storing because exposure to water encourages spoilage.

Local lettuces and mixed salad greens are also available at many farmers’ markets. The locally-produced ones you see now are grown in high tunnels. High tunnels are a fancy term for an unheated greenhouse. Greenhouse-type structures are placed over farmer’s fields and covered with plastic. The warmer environment usually causes plants to start growing 2-3 weeks early. The season can be extended by an additional 2-3 weeks as well. With the proliferation of baby salad greens over the last few years, it is difficult for many to eat a salad composed mainly of iceberg, romaine or leaf lettuce! Leaf lettuces one might find in the local markets include butterhead, Boston Bibb, green/red lollo, and green/red oakleaf. Greens include arugula, mustard, cress, and sorrel. The lettuces are a good source of Vitamin C, folate, and also contain some fiber. Arugula, mustard, and cress are also in the Brassica family. Arugula, depending on the variety, imparts a peppery or nutty flavor. Cress imparts a tangy flavor, and sorrel can taste slightly sour. Most larger greens can be cooked, while the baby greens are used in fresh salad mixes. Arugula, mustard, sorrel, and cress greens provide a readily absorbable source of calcium, iron, manganese, copper, and potassium. They are also a good source of vitamins A, C, K, and folic acid. In choosing local lettuces and mixed greens, look for unwilted, unblemished leaves. If bought fresh without special packaging, they are best stored dry (dry damp leaves with a paper towels) in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. As with kale, avoid washing before storing because exposure to water encourages spoilage.

Locally grown produce is more ripe, flavorful, nutritious, and less expensive in many cases than produce that is grown elsewhere. This may especially be true this season, with high fuel prices expected to raise the cost of produce trucked in from the west coast, Florida, and other long-distance locations. In addition, buying local supports and sustains your local farms.