As a registered dietitian and lover of fresh fruits and veggies, I’m very excited about the Virginia Farm Market Fresh for Seniors program, a partnership of the Virginia Department of Aging, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 10 local Area Agencies on Aging, including Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, and one city government. Funded by the US Department of Agriculture, the program distributes $40 in farmers’ market vouchers to be distributed to income-qualified seniors, 60 years and over just in time for National Farmers Market Week, Aug. 6-12. These vouchers or checks allow individuals seniors the opportunity to buy locally grown, fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables that are in-season, to make delicious, healthy meals and snacks. SSSEVA distributed their allotment of vouchers during the month of July in locations throughout South Hampton Roads and Western Tidewater.
Some tips for shoppers: The best time of day to visit the farmers markets is early in the morning so that there is more variety and the produce is at its freshest. Try to buy produce that you will use within a few days or that you plan to freeze for later. If possible, bring along reusable canvas bags or baskets, and if you use plastic bags, remove the produce once you return home, as plastic bags can make the produce spoil faster. Most fruits and veggies are best stored in your refrigerator in the crisper drawers, with some exceptions such as bananas, melons, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and winter squashes. You can keep the following fruits on the counter to ripen and move to the refrigerator when ripe: avocados, kiwi, nectarines, peaches, pears, and plums.
Fruits and veggies are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The fiber helps to fill you up and makes you feel full longer. In addition fiber helps keep you regular and may help reduce cholesterol, control blood sugars, and reduce the risk of some cancers. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories, and they have no cholesterol. They are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that help to reduce inflammation and oxidative damage to cells, which make them good for your overall health as well as your brain health.
Don’t be afraid to ask the farmer or vendor if you don’t recognize a fruit or vegetable. They love talking about their food, they may offer preparation ideas, and you may discover a new favorite. Last but not least, if it’s a sunny day, you may want to wear a hat and/or sunscreen, since farmers markets are usually out in the hot sun!
One more thing to remember! Before you make your purchase, ask the farmer if he or she accepts the vouchers. Some individual farm stands do not!
Try this recipe with summer squash and cannellini beans:
SUMMER SQUASH & WHITE BEAN SALAD
4 cups diced (yellow) summer squash
1 cup chopped red onion
1 (19 ounce) can cannellini beans
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon chopped rosemary (or ½ teaspoon dried)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large bowl, combine summer squash, onion, and beans.
2. In a small bowl, mix oil, vinegar, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
3. Pour oil mixture over bean-squash mixture and toss.
4. Chill and serve! Refrigerate leftovers.
Makes 10 servings.