Gardening: Getting your hands on fresh produce

The best tasting produce is the freshest produce. For some it comes straight from the garden but for people without time, room or desire to grow vegetables there are other places to get the just picked freshness.

You can sign up for weekly deliveries from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) garden. The produce delivered depends on what was planted and the growing season.

Visit a local Farmer’s Market – 80 per cent of all the product sold at a farmers market must be either grown or made by the vender. The other 20 per cent of the product sold can be items brought in for resale. The fresh produce available is very seasonal – www.agric.gov.ab.ca/app21/rtw/markets/markets_map.jsp is a link to an interactive map with Alberta’s Farmer’s Markets, times and locations.

The home grown rule does not apply to other markets that do not contain the word “farmers”. These markets have a greater variety of merchandise from flea market to home sales to produce that is bought from a wholesaler or distributor.

How does one tell the difference? Look at the produce available. At this time of year, lettuce, spinach, rhubarb and radishes are grown in the field. Cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and tomatoes are the majority of the greenhouse crops. Fresh berries, fruit and carrots are still a few weeks away even in the Fraser Valley and south Okanogan. Lemons and oranges do not grow in British Columbia. Even in the warmer climates, produce is still seasonal. Apples and pears are harvested in the fall. If they are being sold straight from the farm at this time of year, they are straight from storage.

Be sure to ask questions about the origin of any produce purchased at markets. All organic produce must be grown on a farm that is certified as organic by the government. There are stringent regulations that must be followed regarding when the last chemical was used on the land, what can be used as fertilizer and as pest control.

Produce might be called spray free which says that the produce was grown without the use of pesticide sprays or liquid fertilizer. These growers have not gone through the process with the CFIA that sets and regulates the Canadian Organic Standards but they are providing a quality alternative to organic

Visit a market garden or u-pick to purchase fresh produce – www.albertafarmfresh.com/find-a-farm has an interactive map that shown many but not all market gardens or U-picks in Alberta. Asking at a market, ads in newspapers, Facebook swap and buys, word of mouth as well as Kijiji are all places that advertise or list fresh produce that is available. It is best to phone the garden before heading out to insure they have the desired produce available.

BC Fruit trucks are a common site sitting by the side of the road in Alberta. They sell produce that has been picked and driven for 10 to 12 hours to get the main distribution point in Alberta. From there the local contractor will load their truck and head for their point of sale. The truck coming from BC is usually refrigerated but the local ones are not. The produce will sit in the back of the small truck until it is sold.

When purchasing fresh local produce, or from fruit trucks give it as much or more care and attention as one would in a grocery store. While most venders are very careful about the produce they sell some are not.

Look to see if it is fresh, crisp and clean. People usually put the same amount of care in growing the produce as they do preparing it. Clean produce shows pride in the end product.

The fresher the produce, the better it tastes. Take time, ask questions and purchase the best that the budget allows.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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