Good Nutrition at Farmers Markets

There are more than 6,100 farmers markets in the U.S., and the number is growing. This NebGuide discusses the advantages of buying produce and other food at a local farmers market.

Wanda M. Koszewski, Extension Nutrition Specialist
Natalie N. Sehi, Assistant Extension Educator
Alice C. Henneman and Amy L. Peterson, Extension Educators

Fruits and Vegetables

Farmers markets are becoming a more common sight across the nation. In 1974, there were fewer than 100 farmers markets in the U.S. Currently, there are more than 6,100. What is a farmers market? It is an association of local farmers who assemble at a defined location to sell their produce directly to consumers. Farmers markets are found in all 50 states with many of them being seasonal rather than year-round. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 1 million people visit farmers markets each week. To find a farmers market in your area, go to this website: http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets.

What are some advantages of buying fresh fruits and vegetables at a farmers market, rather than a grocery store?

How do you decide which items to purchase — and when to keep looking?

Why are fruits and vegetables important for good health?

A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help protect you and your family from chronic disease, such as some cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. By choosing nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, you are getting a good source of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals for the calories you consume. Remember, most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories. Table I shows the different nutrients we get from fruits and vegetables, the role that nutrients can play in the body, and the fruits and vegetables that are good sources of those nutrients.

Table I. Nutrients and sources in fruits and vegetables.
Nutrient Role in the Body Sources
Vitamin A Keeps eyes and skin healthy and helps to protect against infections. Cantaloupe, carrots, Chinese cabbage, kale, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, winter squash
Vitamin C Helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, mangoes, oranges, pineapples, red and green peppers, strawberries, sweet potatoes, tomato juice
Potassium Helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Carrot juice, cooked greens, lima beans, prune juice, sweet potatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, white beans, white potatoes
Fiber Many benefits, including decreased risk of coronary artery disease and colon cancer. Artichokes, beans (navy, kidney, black, pinto, lima, white, soybeans), lentils, peas (split, chick, black-eyed)

What are phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals may help protect against aging and reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease. Some nutrition experts say we get phytochemicals by eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables. Table II divides fruits, vegetables, and beans/legumes into groups based on their color.

Table II. Putting Color in Your Diet
Color Function Fruits Vegetables Beans/Legumes
Red Eating a wide variety of red fruits and vegetables may help improve heart health, memory function, and urinary tract health. Blood oranges, cherries, pomegranates, raspberries, red apples, red/pink grapefruit, red grapes, red pears, strawberries, watermelon Beets, radicchio, radishes, red onions, red peppers, red potatoes, rhubarb, tomatoes Red/pink kidney beans, red lentils, red/pink pinto beans
Orange/Yellow Eating a wide variety of orange/yellow fruits and vegetables may help keep your immune system, eyes, and heart healthy. Apricots, cantaloupe, grapefruit, lemons, mangoes, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, persimmons, pineapples, tangerines, yellow apples, yellow pears Butternut squash, carrots, pumpkin, rutabagas, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, yellow beets, yellow peppers, yellow summer squash, yellow tomatoes, yellow winter squash Yellow lentils, yellow split peas
Green Eating a wide variety of green fruits and vegetables may help keep your eyes healthy and maintain strong bones and teeth. Avocados, green apples, green grapes, green pears, honeydew melon, kiwi, limes Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, cucumbers, green beans, green/Chinese cabbage, green peppers, leafy greens, leeks, lettuce, okra, peas, spinach, zucchini Edamame, green lentils, green split peas, lima beans
Blue/ Purple Eating a wide variety of blue/purple fruits and vegetables may help memory function, healthy aging, and urinary tract health. Black currants, blackberries, blueberries, dried plums, elderberries, plums, purple figs, purple grapes, raisins Black salsify, eggplant, purple asparagus, purple Belgian endive, purple cabbage, purple carrots, purple potatoes, purple peppers Black beans, black soybeans
White Eating a wide variety of white fruits and vegetables may help improve heart health and may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Bananas, brown pears, cherimoyas, dates, white nectarines, white peaches Cauliflower, garlic, ginger, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, kohlrabi, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, turnips, white corn Black-eyed peas, brown lentils, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, navy beans, soybeans, white beans

Using your five senses at a farmers market

While you are at a farmers market, enjoy using all five of your senses. See the vendors and other shoppers enjoying themselves, as well as the beautiful, fresh produce. Look at the produce before you buy it to make sure it is free of bruises and other damage, and make sure to look in your bag to see if it contains a rainbow of colors.

Smell the fresh produce, flowers, popcorn, and meats being cooked on the grill.

Feel the different produce, such as plump tomatoes, unhusked corn, and smooth, silky eggplant. Remember to put heavier, firmer produce in the bottom or your bag/basket. Taste the free samples: fresh baked breads, fresh produce, meats, cheese, nuts, etc. Try one new fruit and vegetable from the farmers market each week. Ask the vendor or your local extension office how to prepare new foods you find at the market. Enjoy the sound of everything going on around you, the crunch of an apple or carrot, the music, and the people.

Is there anything special I need to do with my fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers market?

Go directly home from the market. Avoid side trips. Foods will decline in quality, and perishable foods like meats and eggs can pose food safety problems if left sitting in your car. Additional tips for handling food for best safety and quality:

What should I bring to a farmers market?

If you haven’t had an opportunity to go to your local farmers market, you are missing a unique experience. Support your local farmers and check it out sometime. You will find that farm fresh produce is not only tasty, but attending a farmers market will help you get a little extra physical activity and add some color to your next meal.

This publication has been peer reviewed.

Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Publications Web site for more publications.
Index: Foods & Nutrition
Issued November 2010

Extension is a Division of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln cooperating with the Counties and the United States Department of Agriculture.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension educational programs abide with the nondiscrimination policies of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and the United States Department of Agriculture.

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