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Around the Home: Buy local, buy fresh at area farmers markets
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Mark your calendars with some very important dates, the opening of our area farmers markets. The Spout Springs Library farmers market will open on Thursday. You can shop from 4-7 p.m. each Thursday.

The Hall County Farmers Market will swing the gate open wide on Tuesdays (starting at 6 a.m.) and Saturdays (7 a.m.) beginning May 10. The Gainesville Market on the Square will be setting up under the trees on the square on Fridays from 2:30-6 p.m. starting June 3. To get the best selection of produce, honey, bedding plants, etc., get there early as possible.

Buying locally grown products helps ensure fresh, handpicked produce. It may have been on the vine or underground yesterday and today it's at the market. Fresh, locally produced food is in demand and our local farmers are ready to meet it.

There is something satisfying in being able to talk to the person that grew your food. That's part of what is fueling the local food movement. See the amazement as a child learns how peaches are actually grown. The sweet juice of a peach dripping down his chin will be a memory he will recall the rest of his life. Summer will always be linked to visiting his local farmers market with his "Pop Pop."

The other thing, of course, is that locally produced food is as fresh as it gets, and that means quality. You won't find tree ripened peaches or day-old eggs in the mega-mart.

Local fruit and vegetable farmers help to bring us back into the rhythm of the growing season: Greens in May, strawberries in June, sweet corn in July, melons and peaches in August, apples and winter squash in September. Sure, you can get these things year-round in a supermarket, but it just ain't the same.

Many local fruit and vegetable producers process seasonal items into jams, jellies, cider, sauces and canned goods so you can get a taste of summer year round.

And the fresher the better. Nutrients are diminished when produce is picked early and shipped across country. Most produce in the U.S. is picked four to seven days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1,500 miles before being sold. Those distances are substantially longer when we take into consideration produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America and other places.

Have you ever compared the flavor of a "homegrown" tomato to a store-bought tomato? No comparison when it comes to flavor. I want a tomato that tastes like the ones that came out of my Maw Maw's garden. I think love of gardening has a lot to do with it, too. The tomatoes you find at the farmers market may not look perfect but I can guarantee you your taste buds will dance with joy.

Buying locally produced or processed food can help to boost your local economy. Local, small farmers and producers can directly profit from your purchases rather than businesses that may have owners living far away.

Many of our local farmers supplement their income with the sales from their garden from their gardens. Helping support small farmers can help safeguard green areas and, in some cases, prevent the urbanization of rural areas. Many farms around the country are being sold and converted into housing developments because farmers cannot afford to stay on the land.

Many small farmers also help preserve and produce heirloom or old-fashioned varieties of produce, like tomatoes or potatoes, that are often not produced by large farmers or sold by big food chains. I remember last year at one of our farmers markets you could choose from over 22 different varieties of tomatoes, many heirlooms that you will never see in a grocery store.

So support our local farming community, get to know a local farmer, provide free entertainment to youngsters and on top of it all get fresh, delicious fruits, vegetables and so much more. I'm looking forward to seeing you at one of our farmers markets.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life on the first Sunday of each month and on Contact: 770-535-8290.