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11 Farm-Fresh Foods That Will Improve Your Cuisine

Jacky Hayward and Anna Hennings | Chef's Blade

Our local farmer’s market at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal

Most of us have grown (or were born) accustomed to going to the grocery store and as chefs, buy our foods from wholesale distributors. It’s just what you do, right? Grocery stores like Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and especially Target and Super-Walmarts, have all your needs in one place, all year round, and tend to be open pretty late, if not all the time. Plus, wholesale food distributors are, well, wholesale. You can pick up tomatoes-on-the-vine and strawberries the size of your fist all year round, why wouldn’t you continue to buy your food there?

Well, more than you think. And if you’ve shopped at or indulged in food from a local farmer’s market lately, you know what we mean.

The produce you’ll find at your mainstream grocery store and wholesale distributor is usually okay, and fine at best. It’s been injected or grown with god knows what (sounds delicious, right?) so that it can sustain cross-country, or even cross-continent, transportation and still look shiny, fresh, and delicious when you come across it weeks later strolling through the store’s aisles.. Anyone else noticing that their Trader Joe’s organic apples are from … New Zealand?

The problem is, the fresh food — those berries for your breakfast smoothie, everything you want to put in tomorrow night’s salads, the tomatoes for your housemade pasta sauce — you often find at corporate grocery stores and distributors like Safeway, Wakefern Food Corporation, and, yes, even Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, isn’t as fresh as it could be. These businesses cater to the customer who wants peaches even if they’re out of season, unnaturally grown, and taste mediocre — not to the consumer who’ll only eat what should be available given that day’s date, local agriculture, and recent climate changes.

The solution? Know what is in season and buy only that.

If you shop at farmer’s markets regularly, most of the research is done for you — you’ll really only find food that’s in season. And while not all vendors are organic or pesticide-free, they’re all local, which most often, is actually better. If you can’t make it to your local farmer’s markets on the days they’re open (or, if you’re lucky, to the farm itself!), or if none are nearby, knowing what is and isn’t in season is key. Even at major chains, if a food’s in season there’s a good chance it was grown somewhere nearby. But the more out of season it is, the worse it’ll taste and the farther it traveled to get to your shopping cart.

As we start the transition from late summer to early fall, here’re the delicious foods you should be throwing into your basket (or eco-friendly shopping bags, we hope) — and what to do with them once you get back to your kitchen.

1. Raspberries and Strawberries
2. Summer Squash
3. Potatoes
4. Figs
5. Grapes
6. Tomatoes
7. Peaches and Nectarines
8. Apples
9. Beans (Shelling and String)
10. Corn
11. Blueberries

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