John Compton, Program Coordinator of Rooted Community Health in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, discusses the ease and benefits of buying seasonal produce and the best way to eat it now and preserve it for later.
Bridgette Butler: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Bridgette Butler with Health Plus. Summer, with all its bounty, is a great time to take advantage of seasonal produce and there are so many wonderful reasons to enjoy the season's produce. Joining us today to talk about how and why to make use of seasonal produce is John Compton, Program Coordinator of Rooted Community Health and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society. Welcome, John.
John Compton: Thanks.
Bridgette Butler: John, what exactly is seasonal produce?
John Compton: So, when we talk about seasonal produce, we are really thinking about produce that's coming out of the field in the season in that particular area. So, here in Nashville, middle Tennessee, in the springtime, that would be like salad greens, turnips, radishes, lots of kale, and beets. Then, in the summer, it would move to like squash and beans, eggplant, tomato, and then later in the fall, that's when you would start to see some sweet potatoes, some winter squash, more kale and collards, and so, it is really about eating with the season. So, sometimes we will go to the grocery store and we will see a tomato in February, but if we were to eat seasonally, we would only be eating those tomatoes in the summertime when they are coming out of the field in that area.
Bridgette Butler: So, really just eating what is in season ... so, exactly what can come straight to us from the farm?
John Compton: Yeah.
Bridgette Butler: And where, where do you find seasonal produce if you don't happen to farm it yourself?
John Compton: Thankfully, here in Nashville, in particular, we have a lot of area farmers markets. We kind of joke that it's almost like every day of the week there is another farmers market that has opened. Richland Park has a farmers market on the weekend. East Nashville and Shelby Park has a farmers market that meets during, I think on Wednesdays, and then Vanderbilt has its own farmers market on Thursdays. The Nashville Farmers Market downtown is open every day. Donelson has a farmers market. Franklin has a farmers market. These are all great places to get seasonal produce, but then, there's other fun ways to do it like a community support agriculture program. These programs are where people pay up front at the beginning of a growing season for what we call a CSA share, and that's when they pay in advance for the produce, and this is when farmers get a source of income during the winter. And then, participants will get a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables that are seasonal and fitting within each season. At Vanderbilt Medical Center, we run a program called "Growing Good Health," where we, in Rooted Community Health, connect VUMC employees with these CSA programs, and we have some discounts available for this program. And these are just really fun ways to meet farmers and to learn about the produce, and there's tons of different ways that people can try out seasonal produce regardless of income, too. Thankfully, most of the farmers markets actually price their food cheaper than what we would get in a grocery store, and then many of these farmers markets also accept SNAP benefits.And then with the "Growing Good Health" program I mentioned earlier at VUMC, VUMC employees get a 15% discount on the CSA program, so, members of our community that earn less than $30,000, they can actually get a fully-subsidized share. All of these ways are great ways in the community to experience local seasonal produce.
Bridgette Butler: Wow, that's fantastic. There is a lot of opportunity to eat seasonally.
John Compton: Definitely.
Bridgette Butler: And it's wonderful that we have a farmers market here at Vanderbilt, even, that employees can go by without having to go too far out of the way. But it sounds like there's also farmers markets in just about every community.
John Compton: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, and there's tons of benefits, because it really ... it really just involves us more in the community in some really, really nice ways.
Bridgette Butler: And it sounds like also economically, it works out for everybody.
John Compton: Yeah, definitely. But then also, when we buy food from a farmers market or from a CSA, we really get the benefit of the food being harvested maybe a day or, at most, two days prior to us buying it. And there has actually been some work done at Harvard School of Public Health looking at nutrient degradation, and so, what I mean by that is basically as a piece of produce is harvested, the amount of nutrients in it goes away the further it is between harvesting and eating it. And so, local food really has some amazing benefits like that. There's an environmental benefit to that, too, where local seasonal produce doesn't travel as far, and so, we end up using less fossil fuels when we consume local produce. And then, many farmers, especially at the farmers markets that I mentioned before, they farm in ways that really attend to how healthy their soil is, how healthy the environment is, and really see their farm as a part of the bigger environment that we live in. And so, eating seasonally has this benefit where we really attend to the place we live and the health of the place we live and the health of our bodies, too.
Bridgette Butler: So many benefits to eating seasonally. Wonderful. And now, how do we actually use seasonal produce? Is it something that we can only use when it's in season?
John Compton: When we first get our CSA box or we have just gotten home from the farmers market, I think a really fun way to use the produce is to think about the ingredients first. And so, what I mean by that is, sometimes we get used to cooking and thinking - I have a recipe, so I will go to the grocery store and buy those ingredients. But when we go to the farmers market and we buy this seasonal produce, if we think - oh, the farmers market had kale ... well, what can I do with kale? .As opposed to thinking about the recipe first, think about the ingredient first. We can also take the bounty of the season and prolong it through things like freezing and canning and even things like fermenting. And so, with freezing, it's really easy, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has an excellent resource that's like "Freezing 101" that really kind of walks through some of the steps, and it is very convenient and a great way to bring produce into the winter months when we don't necessarily have it at our fingertips. Canning is another fun way. This is where we can take like whole tomatoes and preserve them so that we can make lovely pasta sauce in the wintertime. And actually, Ball jar, everybody is ... you see folks walking around with these mason jars, and Ball jar has ... they work with the USDA and have excellent recipes for canning and preserving and pickling and making jams that are approved to where we know if we follow their process, it is perfectly safe. But then, when we think about things like fermenting, what we mean by that, that's like when we take cabbage and we mix it with a little salt and then we let it sit for a bit, and we then have sauerkraut. There's an author and a chef named Sandor Katz, who wrote a great book called The Art of Fermentation that actually won the James Beard Foundation Award, and he has a really nice YouTube video of just how to easily make and preserve things.
Bridgette Butler: So, it sounds like there's a lot of resources on ways to use seasonal produce now but then also preserve it for later.
John Compton: Absolutely.
Bridgette Butler: Yeah, great. Well, thank you so much for coming in.
John Compton: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Bridgette Butler: And giving us this wonderful information on seasonal produce, where to get it, and how to use it.
John Compton: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.