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Farmer's Markets & Community Supported Agriculture

"Nutrition From the Ground Up" is this year's National Nutrition Month theme (celebrated each March) so now's the perfect time to discuss local agriculture. First, a couple programs to be aware of_

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Foodis a recently launched USDA initiative to connect consumers with their producers. The USDA calls it "...the start of a national conversation about the importance of understanding where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate." Check it out!

Farm to Schoolis another USDA initiative encouraging school gardens, using local food in schools, promoting better school nutrition, and supporting nutrition and health education in schools. Community Supported Agriculture is a great, affordable way to support your local economy. Read this post from www.localharvest.org, a reliable Web site devoted to organic and local food.

Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. Advantages for farmers:

• Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin

• Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow Advantages for consumers:

• Ability to eat ultra-fresh food, with flavor and added vitamin benefits • Exposure to new vegetables and ways of cooking

• Children typically favor foods from "their" farm - even veggies they've never been known to eat

• Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown Farmer's markets: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/FarmersMarkets Don't forget roadside stands are a great way to connect with local farmers as well.

And now...my top five reasons to encourage a weekly visit to your Farmer's Market:

1. What a sense of community. I never feel more at home than when I'm buying seasonal, fresh goods from my local Farmer's Market. It's a great place to rekindle your sense of community and meet new people. Go week in and week out and the farmers will know you by name in no time.

2. It's the "Green Thing" to do. They're environmentally friendly and sustainable and offer organically grown food. And it's local- minimize your carbon footprint by buying food grown around the corner instead of half way around the world.

3. Savor the Flavor: It takes tasting a tomato from just up the street to understand the quality of local produce. The flavor is often leaps and bounds above what traveled 1000 miles to get to you. Taste for yourself!

4. Colors. It's like finding the rainbow every time- the various colors of fruits and veggies will take your breath away. They're often open year-round so don't be shy!

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of www.Skinnyandthecity.com. She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto www.FFactorDiet.com.