Although I grew up in Liberia and have visited rubber farms, I had never visited a farm that grows staple foods until last fall when I had the opportunity to visit an organic farm powered by solar energy run by Dr. William Hare, an Associate Dean at the University of the District of Columbia.
I was able to pick food directly from the ground myself. It looked different, tasted different and my body felt different. I was even more excited when I cooked this wonderfully fresh food as I knew exactly where it came from.
Visiting the farm was blissful. I picked kale from the ground and ate it. I also had the most delicious apple that I had ever eaten (I’m not exaggerating—it was the perfect blend of sweet, sour and tartness). The earth was rich with minerals and the farmers actually cared about the food that they were growing—that’s my kind of farm!
When it comes to produce sold at the supermarket, looks can be deceiving. Just because the bananas look fresh and ripe doesn’t mean that they have good nutritional value. I’m sure that you’ve had the experience of eating a fruit that looked perfect on the outside, but tasted awful when you ate it. Of course not every fruit or vegetable is going to taste great, but a lot of conventional produce have been force ripened and come from across the country or from around the world.
For produce with the best nutritional value, you want to eat farm fresh produce (produce that is directly from the farm) which has been organically grown. It will have the highest concentration of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. The longer the produce has to travel to get onto your plate, the fewer nutrients it has. Be aware of where your food comes from and try to get it from as close to the farm as possible.
Before I get into how you can make sure that you’re eating farm fresh food, I want to make sure that you’re eating real food. Eating real food not only means that you aren’t eating processed foods, but that you’re eating fruits and veggies that have not been sprayed with pesticides. If you can’t always buy organic, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists which give shoppers information on produce with the most and least pesticide residue, respectively. Be sure to avoid conventional foods on the “Dirty Dozen” list and if you can’t always buy organic versions of the items on the “Clean Fifteen” list, you might opt to buy conventional versions because they have a lower pesticide residue.
Here are three ways that you can make sure that you eat farm fresh food:
1. Visit a farm or farmer’s market and get to know your farmer. If you can visit a farm, I highly recommend it. You’ll gain a new appreciation for fresh produce. The kale that I picked from the farm looked much greener and more vibrant than most of the kale that I see at the supermarket every week. If you can’t visit a farm, go to a farmer’s market and talk to your farmers. Ask them whether they use pesticides and if so, which ones. I’ve found that farmers are honest and will let you know whether they’ve used pesticides. There are also some farmers who use organic practices (no genetically modified seeds and no pesticides), but are not certified organic. I recommend eating produce from those farms, but you won’t know whether they use organic farming techniques unless you talk to your farmer.
2. Grow your own food. Growing your own food will really make you appreciate and enjoy your food on another level. This is actually something that I’m working on right now. Growing your food allows you to control the process and ensure that it’s truly organically grown. You don’t need to have a lot of space as you can even grow produce in raised beds on a deck (that’s what I’m doing) or in pots. Make sure that you start with non-GMO (genetically modified) seeds and organic soil. You can buy non-GMO seeds from Southern Exposure. If you don’t want to grow produce in your own backyard or on your deck, you can purchase a community plot to grow your food. They even have organic plots that already have organic soil. If you’ve never grown your own food, you might want to start with herbs because they’re easier to grow.
3. Buy local. If all else fails, buy local. A number of natural food stores these days tell you which farms the produce comes from. Not only does buying local ensure that you’re getting produce that is farm fresh, but you’re also saving the environment because there will be much less pollution emitted into the atmosphere to get the produce to your supermarket.
Now that I’ve visited a farm, shopping at the supermarket is a challenge, but whenever I do, I buy organic produce that is locally grown to make sure that I’m getting the best version of farm fresh food each time.
Now it’s your turn. I want to know four things: (1) Have you ever been to a food farm? (2) Do you visit farmer’s markets? (3) Have you grown your own food? (4) If you have eaten farm fresh food, can you taste the difference? Let me know in the comments below.