Refresh your produce, buy local

by Beacon Staff • September 15, 2011

strongAbigail Collins, Beacon Correspondent/strong

Cheap, tasty, and easily accessible. That might sound like the beginning to a terrible personal ad, but actually, these are the qualities that many Emerson students look for in their food.

Students are choosing to buy their organic produce from local Boston farmers’ markets, rather than relying on corporate grocery stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, where the bulk of organic shopping is done. These students are drawn to fair prices, quality food, and convenience.

The brilliant red hues of McCarthy Farms’ “prize-winning” tomatoes at the Copley Market unintentionally coordinate with the reds and oranges of in-season apples and peaches. Warm hues emphasize the arrival of autumn. The zucchini and summer squash, however, which not long ago invited summer with their rich yellows and greens, appear tired, reflecting an onset of colder weather and higher prices. Local pricing is comparable to grocery store prices, and with produce as fresh as this, the better deal seems rather obvious.

While produce is the dominant product sold at local markets, explore a bit and you just might discover some of the other surprises they offer. It is common to find baked goods, cheeses, flowers, fresh sandwiches, and a number of other products hidden among the extensive displays of fruits and vegetables.

A short trip to South Station will land any hungry student at the The Boston Public Marketplace, where Kimball Farms  can be found practically giving away produce such as blueberries at $5.00 a box, $0.50 cucumbers, and peaches at $2.50 per pound. Kimball, a farm run by Paul and Marie Hills, provides fruit from both Hollis, N.H. and Pepperell, Mass.   Students are often compelled to shop at local markets not only for pricing and availability, but also for the picturesque, cultural experience they offer.

The aroma and image of fresh produce, flowers, baked goods, and the many other products being sold are valuable commodities in themselves — and a free one at that.

“You know it’s grown by the people there,” Joshua Wu, a freshman, undeclared major said. “I felt a connection when not buying [produce] from a corporation.”

The Haymarket Farmers’ Market, also a short distance from campus, is located just outside of Faneuil Hall. Shoppers are immersed in a flood of culture and passion that is seldom found in supermarkets. Sophomore visual and media arts major Marissa Loughran raves about Haymarket.

“I’ve never regretted buying anything,” she said.

Buying and eating organic produce, apart from tasting better, has a number of health benefits, mainly because fresh food lacks preservatives.

“If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you don’t need to buy it,” freshman studio television major Kayla Mitchell said as she waited in line for her dinner at the LeGrain and Legume station of the Emerson dining hall.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, all foods labeled as organic must “use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.”

To put it simply, food labeled organic is, by this definition, better for us and for the environment.

The great prices, vibrant atmosphere, and sense of community that farmers’ markets have to offer is an added bonus when knowing the fresh apples, berries, and veggies aren’t suffocating within plastic boundaries at the grocery store.

Still, the lack of preservatives does have its drawbacks. Getting the  most out of products with a short shelf life purchased at farmers’ markets can be tricky. Louisa Kadson, founder and CEO of Let’s Talk About Food — a festival partnered with  the Musuem of Science in Boston teamed with local eateries, and farmers markets — advocates to stress the importance of making smart choices when it comes to food. She suggests making smart purchases.

“Don’t over buy,” she said, “Don’t wash until ready to use.”

Kadson provides reasonable advice for college students who are often only interested in buying in small quantities as they are responsible for their own personal shopping.

Apartment and dorm room chefs should look for fresh herbs like basil and oregano to add a bright burst of flavor to dishes like pasta. A honeycrisp is a yummy, organic energy source due to its natural sugars and fiber content. Even a quick perusal of a market can lead to a satisfying snack. Some vendors, usually bakeries, offer free samples — just ask.

Hunger-satiating goodies bring in buyers but a bigger picture keeps shoppers coming back for more. Students agree that purchasing from nearby sources is important.

“It’s key to support your local community,” said Nicholas De La Canal, a freshman  journalism major.

Many students make the transition to buying locally, and agree with De La Canal that even when prices appear slightly higher at local markets now and then, attempting to give back to their own community directly makes paying the extra buck an acceptable compromise.

Because of a limited scattering of local supermarkets in downtown Boston, farmers’ markets attempt to provide fresh produce that is obtainable for all. Regardless of the neighborhood you find yourself in, there may be a farmers’ market hidden within walking distance.

Popular markets such as the Boston City Hall Farmers Market hold specific hours, which can be difficult for students to work into their already busy schedule.

However, many would make the trip for some quality food. “I probably would go to get some good, cheap, food for my apartment,” said John Curtis, a junior film production major.

By shopping at these markets and buying local, organic food, consumers support the community while getting organically produced food for a fair rate.   So next time, instead of scanning the personal ads, take your appetite down to a local market to support the community- and your stomach.

emCollins can be reached at/em

em abigail_collins@emerson.edu./em

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Produce Grid Caption:

emTasty produce should look and smell, well, tasty. Pick fruits and vegetables with blemish-free flesh and scrub gently under cool water to remove debris./em

Honey Photo Caption:

emFarm-harvested honey provides the perfect balance of sweetness to a steaming cup of green tea. Winnie-the-Pooh can’t be far from this hive./em

All photos by Jamie Emmerman, Beacon Correspondent