After a winter of eating vegetables that lose more than 40% of their nutrients during transport from faraway lands, we look longingly to summer.

It’s when we will wave goodbye to mealy tomatoes, tiny bell peppers and chewy corn. When looking to take advantage of nutrient-rich vegetables this summer, you have several options: Growing your own, taking advantage of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and going to the farmer’s markets/vegetable stands.

There are several benefits to growing your own garden. Several of these reasons are also why CSAs and farmers markets are a good choice. Reasons include saving money. Top money-saving crops to grow on your own are peppers, herbs, lettuce, squash and tomatoes. Guaranteed fresh and nutrient dense, you grow it and you know it. You know what’s in it and on it with such things like pesticides and chemicals. Growing your own also creates a sense of pride and community, as you probably will have too many tomatoes and zucchini and you will need to share.

If you plan on growing, do so ASAP. If planning to grow from seeds, that season is near its end. If you want to wait and get seedlings at your garden store, they are becoming available. Keep in mind our last frost date according to the Farmer’s almanac can be as late as May 9, so I would avoid planting outside before then.

There is a subscription for everything — vegetables and other farm-raised products are no different. When you subscribe to a harvest, you get a weekly or bi-weekly box of produce and maybe some other farm goods like eggs, milk, etc. They usually have several drop off locations so they can get closer to your home.

Subscriptions allow farmers to plan what to grow, but also create relationships in the community. Although they seem expensive upfront, the weekly cost is small and you have already paid for it. Republic Food Enterprise will be offering CSAs for the Fayette County area. And they are offering a discount if you subscribe by April 30. Farms offering CSAs in Fayette County are Sarver Hill Farms, Footprint Farms and Family Cow. In Washington County, Stone Church Acres, Edible Earth and Footprint Farms are available for CSAs.

Farmer’s Markets are another arena to get nutrient-rich, locally-grown, fresh produce and products. Most farmers markets are much more than that. In Fayette County and Washington County, the farmers market is tied in with other locally-made products, sold during concerts of the local musicians. They are a celebration of everything local. Washington County holds theirs 3-6 p.m. Thursdays on Main Street, while Uniontown at Storey Square on Monday evenings. Keep your eyes open for the farmers markets in Charleroi, Brownsville, Connellsville, Ohiopyle and Wednesdays in Waynesburg.

Once the growing season is in full swing, you will not be far from a farmers stand. They will dot the roadside for most trips you will take during the summer. Farm stores such as Stone Church Acres in Finleyville, Trax and Triple B Farms in the Mon-Valley, Christner’s farm in Dawson and Dudas Farms in Brownsville are a few of our local ones. Dudas will also have their stands all over the area starting early June.

It is hard to comparison shop while buying local produce. But studies have shown that more than 90% of all consumers that buy farm-raised products and goods feel that they receive a value when purchasing these local goods. Not only is it a value, it’s also good for the local economy. A dollar spent at a local market on goods produced by a local grower has 2 times the economic impact as sales of non-locally produced goods.

So taking advantage of fresh and local, whether it is grown by you or your farmer neighbors. It just makes sense. You get to avoid the jet-lagged dull produce you had all winter. Plus, it is nutrient dense, it is a value, easily attained and it brings a boost to the economy and your diet.

Local farms and CSA contacts: Republic Food Enterprise, republicfoodenterprisecenter.org, 724-246-1536; Dudas Farm, dudasfarm.com, 724-246-7601; Footprint Farms, footprintfarms4u.com, 724-329-8254; Sarver Hill Farms, sarverhillfarm.net, 724-834-2334; Christner Farms, christnerfarms.com, 724-529-3131; Stone Church Acres, stonechurchacres.com, 724-255-9129; Edible Earth: edibleearthfarm.com, 814-303-9663.

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