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Thu, Oct. 17

Get fresh, tasty, locally grown produce from farmers markets, community garden programs

Enjoying fresh, flavorful summer produce is one of the greatest pleasures of the season. After all, what could be better than the taste of juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes, honey-sweet corn or crisp, garden-fresh green beans?

Even if you don't have your own backyard garden, fresh summer produce is not far away. Yavapai County is home to many small farmers who grow dozens of fruit and vegetable crops. To sample some of the best produce Arizona has to offer, check out one of the local farmer's markets or consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA.

According to Managing Director Heather Houk, the Prescott Farmer's Market started in 1997 with just ten vendors but hosts over 60 vendors today. Around fifteen vendors sell goods at the markets in Prescott Valley and Chino Valley. All three are part of the Prescott Farmers Market, a non-profit cooperative that welcomes farmers who grow their own produce in Arizona or artisans that make and use local products. Local produce is also available at the Skull Valley General Store, which holds its own Farmer's Market starting in June.

Joining a CSA is another way to enjoy local produce throughout the growing season. CSA members buy a share of the farm's harvest at the beginning of the season and receive weekly deliveries of produce until the harvest ends. There are currently three CSA programs offered in the tri-city area. The Prescott College CSA offers products year-round that are grown on farms from Gilbert to Camp Verde and places in between. Whipstone Farm, in Paulden, delivers shares to its members from early May to mid-October. YC Grown, run by the Yavapai County Farmers and Ranchers Cooperative, begins deliveries in June and accepts food stamps. It may not be too late to join a CSA for the 2013 season. Check out local CSA websites for more information.

There are many benefits of buying and enjoying fresh, local produce. First, there is taste! Local produce is usually picked at peak flavor on or near the day it is delivered. Just one taste of fresh, sweet butter lettuce, ripe tomatoes, or zesty green garlic is enough to convince most people to come back for more! Second, there is increasing evidence that eating more fruit and vegetables can reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer. Because of the protective effects of produce, the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, the USDA and the National Institutes of Health all recommend eating as much as you can: from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups per day. Local produce tastes great, making it easier to meet those goals.

Produce grown locally may also be more nutritious. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, studies show that the vitamin C content of crops like red peppers and tomatoes is higher when these foods are allowed to ripen on the plant. Crops that are shipped long distances are usually picked well before they are fully ripened, to allow for better shipping and storage.

Lastly, buying local produce is a great way to meet new friends and become part of the ever-growing farming community. According to Kate O'Connor Masse, owner of Chino Valley Farms, community-based farms like hers value the feedback they get from their customers. Per Kate, "We used to run a large scale operation that shipped tomatoes all over the state. We prefer the way things are now. We know the people who eat our food." Likewise, as consumers, it is good to know the farmers who grow the nourishing food we love to eat.

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