How to choose all that food, glorious food, at farmers markets

Aug 16, 2019

Farmers markets are a sea of choices: food that's good for you, food that's probably not all that good for you and food you just want to eat. WBFO's Mike Desmond was escorted through Buffalo's downtown market Thursday with experts on food and nutrition for help sorting out all the choices.

On staff at the Erie County Senior Services Department are a chef and a dietitian consultant to help with programs, including 48 congregate meal sites that feed as many as 1,000 people a day. Commissioner David Shenk said the county's contract requires the food purveyor to buy some local food for those meals.

Shenk said there are all kinds of advantages to local people getting some of their food from local farms.

"We buy local. We're reinvesting back in our community. We're supporting jobs. We're reducing the transportation cost," Shenk said, "and that way also, too, there's a shorter time from when they are picked to when they are on the table."

For example, Erie County uses a local sausage supplier.

"They do have a chicken sausage and my wife buys that a lot," he said. "She only buys the chicken. She won't buy the pork sausage, which is what I would prefer. She always buys the chicken, especially the breakfast, the links."

Erie County Senior Services Commissioner David Shenk (left) and Dietician Janice Nowak (center) peruse some choices at Buffalo's downtown farmer market.
Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

Dietitian consultant Janice Nowak said she would have to "see the nutritionals" on sausage. She also suggests going light on the baked goods.

In recent years, one thing that's encouraged many lower-income people to shop the fresh foods of farmer markets is the ability to buy with SNAP cards, formerly called food stamps. Nowak said users can get some extra food through the supplemental food assistance program.
"It's just another way to be able to use your SNAP benefit, plus a lot of them (farmer markets) will actually double the SNAP benefit up to $20," she said. "So they could actually get $40 in fresh produce for $20 of their SNAP benefit."

The county also has some extra benefit cards for farmers markets.

Nowak also noted some seasonal issues, since some foods are raised only part of the year. She said congregate dining and farmer markets offer good nutrition for seniors who don't always take advantage.

"I do find that a lot of seniors, especially if they live alone, they buy a lot of convenience foods and frozen meals and things like that, which are okay occasionally, but it's really not getting all of the nutrients that you need," Nowak said. "So specifically, I guess I would go for things that are really high in vitamin A or vitamin C, your tomatoes, your peppers."

Nowak said people should be careful of portions, since food can go bad. She advises buying only as much as you can eat. Looking at the fresh fruit, for example, Nowak said it's good for you, but don't let it go to waste.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"Blueberries, they will last for several days, but you would probably want to freeze them if you have a large quantity of them," she said. "Yeah, it's a great way to have them throughout the winter is to freeze blueberries and have them, and that's one of the best fruits that you can eat. So definitely go for the blueberries."

Blueberries contain all sorts of vitamins and all of the rest of those things you can't see, but are good for you. At this time of year, there are plenty of others on the farm tables.

As people age, they gradually lose some of their sense of taste. Nowak said that's why those fresh herbs, even those pots that can go in the window in the winter, are good for you.

"Fresh herbs are great. They add so much flavor to food and they are so healthy for you. I'm always promoting fresh herbs," Nowak said. "If you can't do fresh, the dry herbs are fine, too, but fresh herbs are great. Especially, like you said, not having the taste sensation as acute as they once did, herbs can add a lot of flavor without adding a lot of sodium or salt."