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Skaggs: Locally grown food tastes better, better for you
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With increasing worries about the safety of imported foods, there is an alternative, says a University of Georgia expert. Buy food grown locally.

"These foods are fresher. So, they usually have more nutrients than foods that have been transported farther and stored for several days," said Connie Crawley, a nutrition and health specialist with the UGA Cooperative Extension.

Produce from local farmers has a chance to get more nutrients because it is often fully ripened before being harvested. This affects the flavor of the produce, too, says Julia Gaskin, a land application specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Locally grown foods are closer to you, so they taste better," Gaskin said. "They are picked when they are ripe, not when they’re green."

Georgia farmers feel that their produce is better, Gaskin said, and that people need to know they abide by much stricter safety regulations than many overseas operations.

The shipping process doesn’t allow imported foods to have much variety, she said. Local farmers grow varieties of crops that taste good, but don’t necessarily ship well.

"There is a movement to support local farmers so they can keep their land and keep growing their crops," Gaskin said. "People have a desire to feel a connection back to the farmer. If they know who is growing their food, there is a trust level about how it is handled."

The United States currently has 3,700 local farmers’ markets, more than double what it had a decade ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Locally grown food is showing up in grocery stores, too. Stores are now beginning to provide sections for regionally-grown produce grown.

Community-supported agriculture is also growing in popularity. CSA farmers provide locally grown produce to consumers who buy subscriptions from them.

"We as consumers can really help farmers by asking for and choosing Georgia produce," Gaskin said, "and put money back into our communities."

Locally, the Hall County Farmers Market provides local residents a direct line to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. Created in 1973, the Hall County Farmers Market officially opens Tuesday.

The days of operation for the Farmers Market are every Tuesday morning starting 6 a.m. and on Saturday’s at 7 a.m. beginning May 12. The market is located on the corner of East Crescent Drive and Jesse Jewell Parkway, near Interstate 985 at Exit 24.

(Thanks to Allie Byrd, UGA CAES Communications.)

Billy Skaggs is a Hall County extension agent. He can be reached at 770-531-6988. His column appears biweekly and at gainesville