On a sunny day, a few boxes of donated vegetables lined up on tables at the Sequim Food Bank can change moods. Patrons take notice of the bright orange carrots and freshly plucked green seasonal goodies with sounds of oohs and ahs.
“People know what’s good for them,” said Kia Armstrong, sales manager for Nash’s Organic Produce.
People make their own decisions about how to eat, but local experts, including registered dietician and diabetes educator Christin Maks with Olympic Medical Center, say eating healthily on any income is doable.
It’s not without some challenges.
“The challenge comes from the food industry and what’s pounded into (people) from commercials,” Maks said. “Currently, it’s cheaper to eat bad because of fast food for $3 or $4, canned and frozen products like boxed meals and ravioli are $1 and are easier and cheaper, which goes to show people are not knowing how to prepare food and cook.”
Food experts feel a decline in knowing how to cook could be a major factor in people turning to cheaper and less healthy foods.
Sequim High School currently offers cooking courses and the North Olympic Skills Center provides a culinary arts vocational course for high school aged students including some from Sequim.
“It’s encouraging to cook for yourself,” Maks said. “It’s cheaper and healthier to get the food and cook it yourself rather than to get a pizza or a fast food meal.”
Armstrong said many people have limited time and means, such as equipment, to cook.
“It’s a challenge to have the time and energy to cook nowadays,” she said. “You have to start at the beginning. You need to learn how to cook.”
Maks said the art of cooking is important and beginners should purchase a basic how-to cookbook to provide information on making a tuna sandwich, boiling pasta, how long to cook meat, etc.
“The crux of it all is how do I do it?” Maks said. “I buy some dried beans, what do I do with that? Food prep is hard.”
Armstrong insists people want to eat right.
“Our bodies intuitively know what we need, but we live in a perverse food culture,” she said. “There are major corporations making money off of making us sick.”
If people aren’t interested in buying organic, Armstrong recommends patrons consider buying conventional whole foods for conventional home meals.
“Buy a whole chicken and roast a soup out of it and later make sandwiches,” she said. “You can stretch a lot of meals out of it (rather) than going to KFC for a night.”
Armstrong admits going fully organic can be expensive and should be done in baby steps
Items like cabbages, Brussels sprouts, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, beets and carrots are coming into harvest season and some of them are available for many months or all year.
“Because of our climate, we’ll have this stuff all winter long,” Armstrong said. “That’s what’s amazing here, we can feed ourselves all year long with the land here. We’re one of the few places in the world that can do this.”
Fresh, local products aren’t just green. Local milk, cheese, honey, eggs and baked goods are available year-round, too.
“Health-wise, organic is better, often times higher quality because it’s without pesticides and higher quality in taste,” Maks said.
“Organic is also the local idea. If we can eat within the region we are living in, then there are a lot of
benefits. We’re supporting the economy and we’re getting the nutrients from the soil right here.”
The nutritional value might be the same as in organic foods, Maks said, and organic foods usually cost more.
“When it’s in season, people can grow it in a community garden,” Maks said.
“That’s a good way to go depending on the weather. It’s not tough. There are people out there willing to teach others to grow their food.”
Many companies are turning to organics and they are widely seen in supermarkets.
Armstrong said some people turn to organic foods when they read an awareness story or are told by their doctors or hear of a recent food scare. She advises people to avoid organic processed foods because people are paying for the packaging along with the product.
“Any fruit to me is better than no fruit,” Maks said, “At least get some fruit in their diet.”
Frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t bad and people can freeze their own foods if done quickly, long before expiration.
When buying canned items, she recommends looking for sodium/salt content and if possible to rinse off fruits and vegetables.
“What we eat is important to the way (we) live day-to-day. The energy we have. Prevention of the flu and colds,” Maks said.
Armstrong provided several steps for buying local while saving money, (see box on tips on A-4).
She recommends people start out with the most economical step, such as buying fresh vegetables and whole foods like beans and rice, and to buy cheaply.
Those seeking formal education on nutrition might be out of luck if they are on Medicaid. Maks said the program doesn’t support adult nutritional education, but does for children, so she recommends families sit together during sessions.
The educational website www.choosemyplate.gov is a go-to resource for Maks in advising people looking to eat on a budget while finding the needed daily nutrition for everyone from children to elders.
Armstrong recommends grocery store or farmers market customers look for the best bargains.
“Look for the things pound for pound that are going to give you the best value,” Armstrong said.
Several options for taking the first step to eating right this fall and winter and for a lifetime are available by browsing local vendors on sites like the Sequim Open Aire Market’s at http://sequimmarket.com; and the year-round Port Angeles Farmers Market at http://farmersmarketportangeles.com or visiting your local grocery store.
Some tips for saving money by buying locally
Contributed by Kia Armstrong, sales manager for Nash’s Organic Produce
• Go back to the same farmers' markets or farm stand regularly and get to know the people who are selling their locally grown veggies, fruits, grains, breads, pasta, etc. Your loyalty may earn you a discount from time to time.
• One of the keys to strike a deal with farmers is to ask questions. Take the time to ask about buying seconds or purchasing items in bulk.
• Know what's in season so it will be easier to understand the local growing system and what will be least expensive at your neighborhood farm stand or store.
• Check out a Community Supported Agriculture, or Farm Share program. Invest upfront in a farm, and receive weekly boxes of seasonal fresh food. Farmers usually give their CSA members an excellent value for their dollar since they appreciate subscribers’ support. Many CSAs offer discounted working shares, or payment plans.
• Walk around the farmers market first before purchasing anything. There are usually several competitors with the same fruits and vegetables, so look at all the produce available.
• Arrive early at a market for best picks, or leverage closing time for a good deal. Farmers don't want to leave with a full truck. Be careful not to barter too much; farmers are primarily interested in building long-term customer relationships, and they have worked hard to bring their products to market. Try out something like “I see that you have some food left over, and I want to help out. What can you give me for $20?” By initially offering a set amount of money and giving the farmer a choice in what to sell you, the farmer will be inclined to give you both a good deal and the best of what his or her table has to offer.
• Many farmers sell fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits that you can take home and plant yourself! Consider starting a small box of herbs or some frequently used veggies, such as salad greens.
• Consider raising your own small animals in your backyard, such as chickens, turkeys, dwarf goats, ducks and rabbits. You can harvest eggs, milk and meat from these animals, ensuring that you know where the food is coming from and that it is healthy.
• Instead of just car-pooling, consider “cow-pooling.” Get together with friends or neighbors to purchase healthy, grass-fed, beef, pork, lamb, etc from local farmers. Ask questions about how farmers are raising their animals and look for healthy animals that are free of antibiotics or hormones.
• Many farmers' markets are sponsored by local organizations that need volunteers to help keep them running. Becoming a volunteer at the market will help you get to know the vendors who sell at the market and they will get to know you. Volunteers are often rewarded for their efforts with generous discounts and gifts from the vendors.
• Bring your favorite farmer or producer a cup of hot coffee, or a taste of something you just whipped up in the kitchen with fresh ingredients. Compliment them if you enjoyed their food, let them know you appreciate their hard work…you may end up saving some money!
• Inquire at your local DSHS office or Senior Center about Washington State WIC and Senior Nutrition Programs. You might be eligible to receive free vouchers that are redeemable for fresh fruit and produce at farmers markets.
• Buy veggies, grains and fruits in bulk with family and friends to save significant money.
• Offer the farmers more than cash. Farmers are independent and sometimes unconventional. Bartering is second nature to them. A farmer, like anyone else, specializes in a certain trade or skill. If you also have a skill or service that you can offer—website design, carpentry, tax preparation, art, etc.—a farmer may be willing to trade for your services.
• Participate in local gleaning or community gardening opportunities. A little donated time can provide welcome wealth of local food in your life.
Fall/winter availability of some Washington fruits and vegetables
• Bok Choy, Sept.-April
• Broccoli, June-Dec.
• Chards, May-Jan.
• Kale, May-Dec.
• Romaine lettuce, June-Dec.
• Mizuna, Oct.-May
• Mustard greens, April-Dec.
• Spinach, April-Dec.
• Turnips, green, Jan.-May
• Carrots, year-round
• Pumpkins, Sept.-Jan.
• Sweet potatoes, Oct.-Dec.
• Tomatoes, July-Nov.
• Winter acorn, butternut and Hubbard squash, Sept.-Jan.
• Potatoes, Aug.-March
• Sunchokes, Oct.-April
• Beets, year-round
• Brussels sprouts, Oct.-Dec.
• Cabbages – green, red, savoy, July-Feb.
• Cauliflower, July-Dec.
• Celery root, Oct.-Feb.
• Kohlrabi, June-March
• Leeks, Sept.-March
• Lettuce head, June-Dec.
• Parsnips, Oct.-Jan.
• Radishes, Oct.-Nov., Feb.-May
• Turnips, Sept.-May
• Apples, Sept-Nov. (harvest), available year-round
• Asian pears, Sept.-Nov.
• Grapes, Aug.-Nov.
• Pears, Sept.-Nov. (harvest), available year-round
• Quince, Sept.-Dec.
• Frozen berries, year-round
• Dry black, cranberry, garbanzo/chickpea, kidney, lentils, navy, pink and pink are all available year-round
• Cilantro, May-Nov.
• Dill, July-Oct.
• Fennel, May-Nov.
• Garlic, mint, oregano, rosemary and sage, all year-round
• Parsley, July-Jan.
Read more about Washington’s seasonal availability at www.agr.wa.gov/aginwa/