Summer markets changing with season
Farmers' market shoppers will note changes in market offerings during the mid-summer season, a Kansas State University specialist said.
"One of the most obvious changes is a now abundant supply of fresh-cut flowers that replaces bedding plants and hanging baskets offered at earlier markets," said Jana Beckman, veteran market watcher.
The cut flowers add color, but are in addition to, rather than in lieu of, fresh seasonal crops available, said Beckman, who is also coordinator of the Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops, based at Kansas State University.
In July, farmers' market shoppers can expect to see tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, onions, peppers, new potatoes, several varieties of summer squash, including zucchini, and blackberries, Beckman said.
Several varieties of sweet corn should be available later in the month, she said.
While tomatoes are typically plentiful in mid- to late- summer, shoppers also will likely see a variety of heirloom tomatoes at local markets, Beckman said.
"Don't let the color of the heirloom fruits (a tomato is classed a fruit, rather than a vegetable) fool you," she said. "Serving a pink or purple tomato is likely to stimulate conversation at mealtime."
"Learning about new varieties of familiar foods is one of the benefits of shopping local, seasonal markets," said Beckman, who also encouraged farmers' market shoppers to take the time to learn more about fresh herbs being sold at the markets.
"With more people choosing to eat at home, interest in cooking and seasonings, including herbs that add flavor, but not fat, has increased," she said.
While buying locally grown fresh or dried herbs at summer markets is an inexpensive way to get acquainted with new flavors, Karen Blakeslee, a K-State Research and Extension food scientist, cautioned consumers about buying oils flavored with herbs.
Such oils are prohibited from sale at farmer's markets, said Blakeslee, who as coordinator of Extension's Rapid Response Center spends her working hours answering food and food safety questions. She explained the reason for the ban:
When in a sealed container at room temperature, an oil-based herb mix creates an anaerobic (absence of oxygen) environment that can support the growth of Clostridium botulinum and produce botulism, a toxin that affects the central nervous system and can cause death. Botulism has, for example, occurred with homemade garlic and oil mixtures stored at room temperature.
A flavored vinegar, which has a high acid content, an acidic environment, is not typically a food safety hazard, Blakeslee said.
Shoppers at the summer markets also are encouraged to use caution when buying meats, said Liz Boyle, a K-State Research and Extension meat scientist.
"Consumers can choose between a variety of whole muscle cut meats, including beef, bison, elk or venison that may not be readily available at commercial supermarkets, but should check to see that vendors are using a cooler with dry ice or freezer unit to keep meat products frozen prior to sale," Boyle said.
"Keeping frozen products frozen (0 degrees F or below) is essential in maintaining food safety and quality," said Boyle, who suggested buying perishable foods last and taking a cooler or insulated container for stowing perishables on the way home from the market.
Not all farmers' markets allow meats to be sold, Boyle said. She noted that locally raised and processed meat products, including poultry, that will be sold to consumers, are required to be processed in a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) or state inspected processing plant, be properly labeled, and to have an "Inspected" stamp.
"The offerings at summer markets can prompt a shopping spree," said Blakeslee, who noted that, when in abundant supply, fresh fruits and vegetables often are lower in price.
Taking advantage of the cost savings is appealing to consumers, many of whom have been contacting K-State Research and Extension offices to ask for information on canning or freezing seasonal fruits and vegetables or making jam and jellies for home use or holiday gifts.
More information is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites:
The Kansas Farmers Market Directory is available at: http://www.ksfarmersmarkets.org/.