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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Incorporating Local Foods Into Your Every Day Meals

Shopping at the farmers' markets can provide you with the opportunity to get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking. Are you ready to take the challenge?

When buying at the farmers' market you can get great tasting vegetables that are in season. As you know, when a vegetable isn't in season locally, it may be coming from hundreds or thousands of miles away, trucked or flown in. That adds significant transportation and fuel expense to the cost of vegetables – which aren't as fresh as in-season produce. So buying in-season can be cheaper, and you get fresher, tastier vegetables. To learn what is in season, check out the handout from the Illinois Department of Agriculture at

If you find a vegetable that's new to you at the farmers' market and want to give it a try, ask the farmer how to prepare it. For the best tips specifically ask how they like to eat it. Many farmers have recipes available. My two favorite cookbooks for ideas about how to eat seasonally and to cook local foods (and those that are familiar) include: From Asparagus to Zucchini A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce and Local Flavors Cooking and Eating From America's Farmers' Markets by Deborah Madison. Both books have delicious recipes and are interesting reads.

Using local foods does not have to be complicated or expensive – it isn't just a luxury for people with lots of time and money! The University of Illinois Extension has developed a list of suggestions as to how you can incorporate local foods into your everyday meals. The following are tips for easy ways to enjoy local foods every day:

  • Top yogurt with sliced strawberries or other fresh fruits
  • Make your own convenience bags of pre-cut vegetables to have in the refrigerator for easy snacking. Carrots, celery, broccoli, etc. work great.
  • Let your eyes tell the story as you look for great vegetables to make a pot of homemade, home grown vegetable soup
  • Top your favorite cereal with locally grown fresh strawberries, peaches, raspberries, etc.
  • Summer grilling – top burgers with onions, lettuce, and tomatoes from your own garden produce
  • Enjoy omelets or scrambled eggs: find some peppers, onions, zucchini, spinach, or tomatoes to add color, flavor and some great nutrients. Take it one step further and use farm fresh eggs and fresh garden herbs.
  • Top your fresh garden green salad with slices of apples, strawberries, raspberries, pears, etc.
  • Enrich the value of pancakes or waffles by adding grated apple and a dash of cinnamon to the batter. Serve with locally produced honey.
  • Freeze pieces of your favorite local fresh fruit, such as strawberries, peaches, raspberries, etc. and process in a blender with a cup of milk and a tablespoon of honey for a quick fruit smoothie.
  • Freeze cut-up rhubarb, onions, green peppers, pears, and apples on baking sheets. Package into freezer bags or containers, label and enjoy during the rest of year in your favorite recipes.

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