Peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, corn: summertime is the peak season for putting them on the table. And from Acworth to Smyrna, there’s no better place to buy these healthy favorites than shopping Cobb farmers markets for the most varied selection of fresh and local produce. Variety Equals Health Why shop the farmers market? Just ask Ann Kirk of Keep Smyrna Beautiful. “I may not know the latest research,” she says, “but I do know that there’s no comparison between a tomato just picked from the garden and a tomato that ripens on the shelf. It tastes better, and it’s better for you.”

Experts agree there is no question that eat-ing more fresh fruits and vegetables can dramati-cally improve your health. “Adding more produce to your diet benefits your digestive system and helps fight chronic conditions from diabetes to high blood pressure,” says Christen Miller, a dietician with Kaiser Permanente. “We encourage people to fill half their plates with fruit and vegetables. Going to the farmers market and trying new things is a great way to make your plate look like that.”

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to get stuck in the routine of buying the same old carrots and lettuce at your local supermarket. Miller recommends making a habit of consuming “an edible rainbow” of different colored fruits and vegetables throughout the day. That’s because each kind of fruit or vegetable has its own unique nutritional value. Red produce, for example, is full of the cancer-fighting plant pigments lycopene and anthocyanin. Blueberries, prunes and other blue (or purple) fruits and vegetables contain the pigment anthocyanin for antioxidant effects that may minimize cancer risk and boost memory function.

The variety of produce at most local farmers markets makes it easier to vary the fruits and vegetables in your diet. “You find many varieties you won’t find in your big chain grocery stores,” says Johnny Fulmer, founder of the Marietta Square Farmers Market. Just as important, he adds, farmers markets offer fruits and vegetables pulled fresh from the earth. “We encourage our vendors to leave the vegetables in their natural state,” Fulmer says. “For instance, our garlic grower puts his garlic on the table fresh from the ground. It has dirt on it. This guy grew it, he knows what it tastes like and, if you ask him, he will tell you how to use every bit of it. You can’t get that at the grocery store.”

To find the peak times for particular fruits and vegetables, Laura Farmer, a dietician at WellStar, recommends using resources like georgiaorganics.org. She points out that just showing up at the farmers market is perhaps the easiest way to find the freshest produce. “If you are buying local, you’ll get what is in season and at its best,” she says. “In a grocery store, you don’t know how long the produce has been in transit. Fruits and vegetables that are exposed to light or inappropriate temperatures start to lose their nutrients and vitamins.”

Budget-Friendly Foods

Some consumers fear that fresh and local produce is more expen-sive than commercially marketed food. However, many experts argue that in the long run, eating healthy is much more cost-efficient than buying heavily processed food at the big chain stores. “When you buy local and in season, you get more bang for your buck nutritionally because local, fresh food is at its peak for nutrients,” says Miller. “It might even be cheaper than what you will find pre-packaged in the store because having to peel and package produce costs more.”

You can also rest easy knowing that the food you buy is safe for your family. “You may pay more, but you have the advantage of know-ing this produce has no pesticides, chemicals or contaminants,” says Kirk. “When we buy produce that has been shipped across the world, we may not know what their laws are for pesticides and spraying. It makes a big difference to buy from a grower you can actually shake hands with.”

Cris Welch, a Kennesaw councilwoman who oversees a number of public health initiatives (including fitcitykennesaw.com), says that eating healthy on a budget is mostly a matter of education. “It’s cheap to eat healthy at the farmers market. People are scared because they don’t know how to do it. They think it’s easier to do the drive-through on the way home for $5,” she says. “But I’ve learned you can go to the farmers market, get fresh produce and make cauliflower pizza for just $2. And the kids will have a blast doing it with you.”

Family-Friendly Communities

With its laid-back, open-air atmosphere, the farmers market is an ideal destination for families. Children get to see what potatoes and carrots look like fresh out of the ground. They can also see, touch and taste new foods, meet the people who grow them and learn first-hand the benefits of eating fresh and local.

Welch says that given the obesity epidemic in Georgia and across the nation, exposing children to fresh and local food is absolutely critical. “This is the first generation that may not outlive their par-ents,” she says. A weekly trip to the farmers market is a fun way for families to create lifelong healthy habits. Kirk is equally passionate about making fresh and local a part of children’s daily lives. “I grew up on my grandfather’s farm, and in the summertime we ate from our garden every day,” she recalls. “Every child and every family should experience that.”

Many markets sprang from a desire to create a family-friendly, community-oriented space. For Fulmer, the farmers market is the culmination of a dream inspired by a trip to New York. “About 10 years ago, we visited our son in New York City, and he took us to the Green Market in Union Square,” he says. “We’d never seen anything like it. And my wife Susie said, ‘If they can do it in New York, we ought to be able to do it in Marietta.’” Today the Marietta Square Farmers Market, one of the oldest and most venerable markets in metro Atlanta, provides access to farm fresh produce and local dairy, baked goods and other products.

Over the years, the market has become a much-loved gathering place for foodies, friends and families. “It’s a fun thing to do with your friends on a Saturday,” Fulmer says, adding that the farmers market has helped to revitalize Marietta Square by drawing more people into the business district on weekends. Robert Fox, director of economic development in Kennesaw, sees the same dynamic at the Kennesaw Farmers Market. “It’s a way of bringing more traffic downtown,” he says. “We see retirees, moms with little kids and everyone in between.” The bottom line, says Kirk, is that the farmers market provides “all the benefits of getting out of the house, walking around, talking to people. It’s a great way to bring the community together.”

Other Avenues to Fresh

Another way to get regular access to farmers’ market quality produce is by subscribing to a community supported agriculture (CSA) service. With CSAs, households receive a weekly box of fresh and local produce for a flat fee. A particularly popular site for CSA pick-up is foodie destination Cook’s Warehouse, which hosts CSA delivery from Moore Farms. “The people who enjoy the CSA deliveries always remark on how it’s great to get local fresh food,” says David DiCorpo, general manager of the East Cobb Cook’s Warehouse. “Unless they’re planting it themselves, they can’t get food this fresh anywhere else, except at farmers markets. Knowing that this food has a minimal impact on the planet (in terms of fuel consumption to ship, energy consumption for long term storage, etc.) is also very important to our customers.” Like many CSA programs, Moore Farms offers not only produce but local meats, artisanal breads and more.

There is also a synergy between the farmers market and CSA movements and the home gardening trend. Most farmers markets have vendors who sell edible plants, as well as decorative shrubs and cut flowers. “The farmers market helps us promote gardening, which is a huge goal for our program,” says Kirk. “You can find many unusual things that are not available commercially. We also encourage ‘back-yard farmers’ to come to market. One family even brought their 6-year-old daughter to sell her vegetables.”

Find Farmers Market and CSA Locations Near You

Moore Farms CSA at Cooks Warehouse East Cobb
1311 Johnson Ferry Rd., Marietta
moorefarmsandfriends.com

Farmers Market Baskets
Food co-op with multiple delivery locations, including Acworth, Kennesaw and East Cobb.
farmersmarketbaskets.com

Acworth Farmers Market
Fridays, May–October, 7–11 a.m.
4846 S Main St., Acworth
Acworth.com/farmers-market

Mableton Farmers Market
Thursdays, 8:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Mable House Complex, 5239 Floyd Rd., Mableton
Mableton.com/mableton-farmers-market/

Kennesaw Farmers Market
Tuesdays, May–October, 7 a.m.–1 p.m.
Adams Park soccer field parking lot, in front of the Community Center
Kennesaw.com/kennesaw-farmers-market/

Smyrna Produce Market
Saturdays, May–September, 8 a.m.–12 p.m.
Parking lot of First Baptist Church of Smyrna, 1275 Church St. SE, Smyrna

Marietta Square Farmers Market
Saturdays, April–Thanksgiving, 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
North Park Square
Sundays, 12–3 p.m.
Mill St. off Mill Park Square
Marietta.com/marietta-square-farmers-market

Powder Springs Farmers Market
Thursdays, June–September, 4–8 p.m.
Community Development Building parking lot, 4488 Pineview Dr., Powder Springs

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