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Living in the Blue Zone: Adopting plant-based diet good for health, longevity
Teresa Smith, of Duluth, browses through the produce Thursday morning at Jaemor Farms.

Where to buy fresh produce

Northeast Georgia farmers markets

Blue Zone Power Approaches

National Geographic fellow Phil Bonelli visited Gainesville in April to share his nine “Blue Zone Power Approaches” to living a longer life. This series is dedicated to these approaches and how they can be implemented in Hall County.

A 66-year-old Greek-American man named Stamatis Moraitis was told by his doctor he had terminal cancer and six months to live. He packed up his wife and their belongings and moved to the Greek island of Ikaria.

There, he adopted the island’s plant-based diet and healthy lifestyle, developing a garden for his wife to remember him by after he died.

More than 35 years later, at age 101, he still tends that garden, and an entire vineyard, too.

National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner shared this story and others like it during a visit to Gainesville in April to share his nine “Blue Zone Power Approaches” to living a longer life.

Buettner developed these tips from the world’s five “Blue Zones,” or the five places on Earth people live longest.

Plant-based diet

In all five Blue Zones, a primarily plant-based diet was found, particularly in the diets of the world’s centenarians. Buettner called this approach “the plant slant.”

“Between 90 and 100 percent of what they eat is plants or plant-based,” Buettner said. “They do eat some meat, but they eat meat about five times a month, and it’s mostly a celebratory food.”

In particular, beans are the cornerstones of the world’s healthiest diets, replacing other complex carbohydrates.

“I fastidiously avoid the word diet,” Buettner said. “But it’s something to think about as you go about buying food for your families or if you have health issues. It’s probably not a bad thing to think about.”

Andrew Linker with Northeast Georgia Locally Grown said correlations exist between eating produce and lowering health concerns such as blood pressure, body mass index and obesity rates.

“I’ve traveled to third-world countries, and I know when I go to very impoverished areas of the world, they still have amazing, rich, healthy food,” Linker said. “That’s a connection with the land. it’s an understanding that food is about more than saving money at the grocery store. Having that connection allows you to change your palate and adopt a healthier lifestyle.”

Shop local

Changing a person’s palate by incorporating the “plant slate” into one’s routine with fresh product is exponentially easier in the warmer months. Luckily, Northeast Georgia residents find it even more manageable since several cities and counties have area farmers markets and farms to flock to buy fresh fruit for days on the lake or vegetables for summer grilling. In fact, a handful of venues sell straight from the farm produce in Hall County alone.

But the convenience of nearby farmers markets is not the only reason why residents should or do purchase products in their hometowns or counties.

There’s a simple reason why people want to buy local produce, said Steve Thomas, manager of the Gainesville Farmers Market.

“One word, and that is ‘flavor,’” he said. “Food that is grown naturally and on a small scale just tastes better. I think people are always looking for that memory of taste — you know, the way tomatoes used to taste. It’s a taste you can’t get in the grocery store.”

The Gainesville Farmers Market, previously known as the Historic Downtown Gainesville Market on the Square, runs 2:30-6:30 p.m. Fridays now through September on the downtown square.

Of the more than 20 total vendors selected by Thomas, at least eight of them are North Georgia farmers.

Meanwhile, the Hall County Farmer’s Market opened May 10 and operates from 2:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and 7 a.m. to about noon Saturdays at Jesse Jewell Parkway and Interstate 985.

Hall County Cooperative Extension coordinator Michael Wheeler said Tuesday afternoons are the most popular time for Hall County residents to shop for local goods after work. But Saturdays are becoming more popular with young families who want to pick up fresh, local produce for their children.

Off-season finds

But balmy summer weather and busy farmers markets aren’t essential when shopping for local food and goods. In Gainesville, it’s possible to buy local produce year-round.

One option for finding local produce is Northeast Georgia Locally Grown. The local food network allows customers to order online at each Friday through Monday. Customers can then pick up their orders 5-7 p.m. Wednesdays at the Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy St., Gainesville.

“We moved to Gainesville in June 2014,” Linker said. “A lot of farmers in Northeast Georgia tend to be in rural landscapes, and we found a lot of them were driving all the way to Atlanta to sell their produce. When we were looking at the region and asking, ‘How can we keep the food more local?’ We saw that Gainesville was the closest sort of urban area to Northeast Georgia farmers.”

Many farmers also have options for purchasing onsite. Jaemor Farms’ roadside market at 5340 Cornelia Highway in Alto is open daily and specializes in homegrown produce plus jam, jellies, baked goods and products from local businesses.

Jaemor also has set “U-Pick” dates, particularly for popular summer goods, including strawberries, blackberries, peaches, select summer vegetables and apples.

Wheeler said people flock to local farms and markets in summer for several reasons.

“It’s knowing the farmer,” he said. “You can sit there and ask questions. It’s knowing it was picked the day before, that it’s ripened properly. So the flavor is better and it’s much more fresh. The texture’s better. Everything’s better.”