National Farmers Market Week is being celebratedPublished 9:54am Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden
Each year since 2000, the United States Department of Agriculture has proclaimed one week in August as National Farmers Market Week. Since 2000, the number of recorded farmers markets has grown more than 170 percent, from 2,863 in 2000 to 7,800 in 2012. This increasing number of farmers markets is helping bolster local economies, improving community health, and bringing diverse groups of people together in a shared social atmosphere.
Growers are provided a good retail market through the local farmers market, which enables them to realize a better return on the products they grow. Also by dealing directly with the consumer, it gives the grower a better awareness of what his customer wants, and almost immediately allows him to try new growing, marketing or selling techniques. For some growers, the farmers market provides an opportunity to live on a small acreage, and make a profit doing so. Most marketers enjoy the one-on-one contact with the customer, as well as the camaraderie and interaction with fellow growers.
Consumer benefits are also numerous. With an increased awareness of the importance of nutrition and how it affects our quality of life, more people are finding local farmers markets to offer an excellent selection of locally grown, high quality, vine-ripened produce that can only be available on a local level. Not only does shipped in produce many times lack good flavor, it also loses vitamin and nutritional value as well. Also, as many consumers become more removed from the farm, many of them are looking for that connection to the farm, and the grower of their produce. The open air atmosphere and knowledge of where their produce comes from gives the consumer a feeling of closeness to nature. They also appreciate the fact that their food dollars are going to their neighbors and helping to support the local economy.
The friendly atmosphere provided by a good farmers market can promote community spirit and revitalize business areas. City dwellers can meet the growers of their food, and get an increased sense of pride in the top quality produce that is available locally, and are frequently pleasantly surprised at what a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables are grown locally.
Society also benefits from direct farm marketing. When energy is scarce and/or expensive, direct marketing eliminates much of the energy used to ship produce thousands of miles. Also most small growers use sustainable growing practices, including using a minimum of pesticides and herbicides. Or if you want organic or chemical free produce, you can also look for vendors using those growing practices.
If you aren’t already a regular farmers market customer, how about visiting our market this week during National Farmers Market Week? We will be having a lot of samples available this week (including sweet corn) for our customers to try. Look for the sample table under our red market awning (near the little Red Barn). And don’t forget to look over our recipe rack. We have recipes for nearly every vegetable and fruit sold at the market. Also sign up for the free basket of donated products given away each week. You could be the lucky winner!
Produce of week: Sweet corn
Sweet corn is a mutation of field corn, and the Iroquois Indian tribe first introduced settlers to it in 1779. It soon became a popular food in the central and southern regions of the United States. Although the original varieties were open pollinated, hybridization later allowed for improved quality. The three common types of sweet corn are su (normal sugary), se (sugary enhanced), and sh2 (shrunken kernel). Most growers now grow either the se or sh2 varieties due to the longer shelf life and the higher sugar content. Although originally sweet corn was all yellow, we now see a lot of bi-color (white and yellow kernels), which many people call “candy corn.” There are now hundreds of different varieties of sweet corn available.
Although the new varieties do not convert the natural sugars to starch as quickly, sweet corn is best when freshly picked, and when the kernels are still in the “milk stage.” With hot weather, corn can go from this stage to being too hard in just a few days. Most commercial growers make consecutive plantings in order to have a more continuous harvest. You can also spread out your harvest by planting varieties with different maturity dates. Early varieties can mature in less than 65 days, with later varieties taking over 80 days.
Corn is one of the favorite vegetables of kids and adults alike. Many people like to prepare corn on their grill (leaving the husk on). If grilling, I would advise soaking the ear for about a hour in cold water prior to placing on the grill. Grilling time would be about 20 minutes, turning the corn occasionally. Corn can also be microwaved with the husk on, for about three to five minutes for one ear. Or you can use husked out corn (wrapped in plastic wrap), microwaving for two to five minutes. If cooking ear corn in water, do not overcook, as it will lose flavor. Bring water to a boil, add corn, bring back to a boil and cook for about three to five minutes.
When buying corn, look for fresh husks, or freshly husked out corn; and refrigerate and then use the corn soon, to get the very best flavor. The longer you keep the corn, the more the natural sugars will convert to starch, and you will lose some of that good sweet flavor.
The sweet corn season here is relatively short, but you can freeze some of that good local corn and have that great corn all season long. Although corn can be frozen on the cob, it takes up more space that way, and needs to be used within a few months. If removed from the cob, it can be kept frozen for over a year without losing quality or flavor. Corn can be frozen either by cutting it off the cob raw, and then cooking it (some people add butter, cream or water, as well as a little salt), cooling well and putting in freezer containers. Or you can blanch the corn (on the cob) for about four to seven minutes (depending on size of cob), cooling it in very cold or ice water until thoroughly cold, cutting corn from the cob and placing in freezer containers. A dozen ears of corn will give you about three cups of kernels, but this can vary greatly due to ear size, and maturity of corn.
Corn is an excellent source of thiamine and folate, and also provides some vitamin A and C, potassium and iron. It also contains antioxidants that may help prevent heart disease and cancer. An average ear of corn has about 90 calories.
Colorful corn vegetable salad
3 cups cooked corn kernels
1 diced red or green bell pepper
1 sweet red onion, sliced thin
Dressing: Two Tablespoons lemon juice, two Tablespoons oil, minced fresh herbs of your choice, and a few tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette.
Sweet corn cheddar pancakes
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, beaten
1-1/4 cups buttermilk
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese.
4 Tablespoons chopped green onions
1 to 2 Tablespoons cilantro (if desired)
1 cup cooked corn kernels
Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper in bowl. Mix in egg, buttermilk and corn oil. Stir in cheese, green onions, corn kernels and cilantro (if desired). Heat a griddle or pan over medium heat, adding oil to coat surface. Ladle batter onto hot pan, about 1/4 cup per pancake. Cook until one side is golden brown, flip over and cook other side. Serve hot with salsa and sour cream.
I think we are all grateful for the rain just received, and the cooler weather. Are we now through the worst of that hot, humid weather? Hope to see you all at the farmers market this week from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday!
Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.