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Get veggies while they’re fresh

Dan Bischoff, Off the Record Staff
David Chen, owner of Zoe s Natural Gardens, holds up green and red Chinese long beans.
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The summer heat and sun has sent the spark of photosynthesis through gardens and farms around the state.

One only has to visit to the Park City Farmers Market, on Wednesdays at The Canyons from noon to 6 p.m., to see what Mother Nature has conceived this year.

The market is scheduled to close the last day of Oct., but veggie and fruit lovers should take advantage while peaches, tomatoes and other freshly grown Utah produce are in peak season.

Soon winter will roll in and the frosts will cause vendors to shut down. When that happens, buyers will have to wait until the summer of 2007 for fresh off-the-vine produce.

According to farmers at the market, eating a fresh fruit or vegetable is more beneficial, both from a nutrition and taste standpoint, than picking something off the grocery shelf.

"These are picked yesterday or the same day of the market," said Tya Midgley of Dave’s Produce, pointing to a slew of tomatoes, squash, spinach and other vegetables. "The tomatoes are not refrigerated and they are not from Mexico."

Refrigeration and sitting vegetables is what causes much of the grocery store produce to lose its quality, Midgley said.

"These haven’t been refrigerated so there are no nutrients lost," Midgley said. "Anytime food sits or is refrigerated it loses taste and nutrients."

The Farmers Market also can contain a wider variety of food than can be found in the grocery store.

"There’s a fresher and a larger selection here," said Andy "Unk" Hale, a hobby farmer from Grantsville. "There’s unique stuff here you don’t find in the grocery stores."

Hale grows 450 varieties of garlic, and he brings many of them to Park City’s Farmers Market. The different varieties have a purpose, he said. Some of them are good for soups, some for baking, some taste differently and fit with different foods. They all seem to have different sizes.

"I try to pick the freshest large selection. "When you try to get the tomatoes to be the same shape and size, you get away from the flavor, and you can’t ship some of these tomatoes because of the thin skin," Hales said.

David Chen, the owner Zoe’s Natural Garden in Fruit Heights, who also has a booth at the weekly market, agrees. The best tasting tomatoes, he said, are not at the grocery store because thin skins on tomatoes such as heirlooms prevent safe shipping. The heirlooms also don’t have the same uniform, shiny appearance.

"The heirloom tomatoes are ugly and fragile, but they are a lot fresher and better tasting," Chen said.

Chen, who also owns the Bamboo Garden Nursery and the Hong Kong Tea House in Salt Lake City, believes there’s no better place to pick up food than at the farmers market.

"It’s all about fresh here," Chen said. "This is what’s a good thing, it’s a healthy thing."

Chen also added that the chemicals that cause produce at grocery stores to grow large and look pretty, not only takes away taste but also can cause allergies.

"All the food is fresh and there are no pesticides like you get in the grocery store," Chen said.

Hale and Chad’s produce also believe in no pesticides.

"I’m not organic, but I follow organic principles," Hale said.

Zoe’s Natural Garden, named after Chen’s daughter, is an arm of his nursery. Through experimentation, he was able to find the vegetables and fruit that, he thinks people will want to eat.

"When we first started I didn’t know about all these vegetables," he said, nodding to various kinds of zucchini, eggplant, squash, peaches and other greens. "So we started growing them and testing each variety. I sell 18 different varieties of squash here. We have 14 different varieties of beans and Oriental vegetables."

Chen has now turned into a connoisseur of earth-grown goodies, especially unique foods that are rare and hard to find in conventional grocery stores.

"They’re all wonderful," he said. "The patty-pan squash good stuff (a squash resembling a large mushroom or a chicken pot pie), it’s good sautéed, diced for soup or anything. The eggplant is great for stir fry; it has lots and lots of protein. It’s good grilled with olive oil and it’s wonderful with parmesan cheese."

Chad’s produce, which sits next to Zoe’s at the Farmer’s market, offers similar items. Chad however also offers a wide variety of greens such as spinach, rainbow kale and Swiss chard.

The rainbow kale, "it’s good for juicing and is full of nutrients," Chad said. Tya added that the kale probably has more nutrients than any other green.

Tya also loves cooking with Swiss chard. When she cooks the chard she clips of the stems and sautés them to a golden brown. "You then place the leaves on top and let them wilt down on top of the stems and top it off with vinegar," Tya said.

Patrick Holford, the founder of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in London, and one of the world’s leading nutritionists has this to say about fresh organic foods on his Web site:

"In straightforward nutritional analyses, organic food tends to have more in it, both in terms of dry weight and nutrients. This is because organically grown produce must be grown in enriched soil and because modern methods of farming with agrochemicals can speed up the growth of a plant, changing its structure to be more full of water. In other words, although it may still look like a carrot you are actually buying less food."

Cook Mark Walter, an executive chef at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, Md., told this to Carol Sorgen who organizes a weight loss clinic about eating foods during their seasons:

"When you can buy produce that has just been picked, it tastes so much better. That’s one reason so many chefs like to have their own garden, you get to use the produce at its best." Salter also said he likes buying at farmers markets because he knows that the produce is grown "as naturally" as possible. "There’s someone there to vouch for the quality," he said.


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