Athens Farmers Market's Annual Strawberry Day

By Rebecca Smith

The rain and chilly weather this season has not stopped our local farmers from producing basket after basket of delicious produce! And to kick off the month of May, AFM will be spotlighting the fragrantly sweet and juicy strawberry! They go fast, so don’t miss these tasty treats, that are also packed with nutrition.

Come on out to the market this Saturday for the AFM's annual Strawberry Day! The market will host Etienne Brasserie's head chef Sal Speights for a strawberry themed chef's demo, Athens/Jackson Farm to School will be on hand with a educational activity for children, and there will be bushels and buckets of fresh, ripe, clean, and local strawberries!

Why pay the extra dollar for strawberries from the farmers market you ask?

First, I challenge you to a taste test: Full Moon Farms vs. Trader Joes. I was able to try some of these sweet treats from both venues, and the difference was astonishing.  

The berries from the AFM were deep red, juicy, and so sweet! The big box store berries were all bigger, a light, orangey red, and many had green tips. When cut open, the strawberries from Trader Joes were bright white throughout the center, whereas the strawberries from AFM had distinctive white striations, surrounded by deep red and pink flesh. They were so juicy, they almost burst in your mouth with every bite. The big box store strawberries had much lower water content and were tart.

Second, according to the 2013 Environmental Working Group study, strawberries are among the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets. They recommend buying organic strawberries due to high levels of pesticide residues remaining on the berries, even after washing. All of the vendors at the AFM are Certified Naturally Grown, and do not use synthetic pesticides when growing their produce.

Strawberries do not ripen further once picked, and many large grocery stores purchase berries that have not reached their full ripeness. This causes the flavor and nutrient content to suffer, and could explain the vast difference in flavor between the different strawberries. Avoid strawberries that have green or yellow patches or are a dull, red color. Fully ripe berries will be at peak flavor, texture, and nutrient content. Overripe and under ripe berries have been shown to have lower vitamin C and phytonutrient content in comparison to optimally ripe strawberries. Food scientists have found a significant decrease in vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidant compounds in strawberries after only two days of storage. The big box stores get their strawberries often from thousands of miles away in warmer climates, so it takes longer than two days to even get on the shelf, much less into your home, and in your mouths. The lower water content of these berries makes it possible for them to maintain a longer shelf life, so that they do not spoil during this process. By getting your strawberries from the source - your local farmers - you are cutting out all middlemen and getting berries at their peak ripeness and with optimal nutrient retention.

What better way to get your kids to eat more fruits than by offering them items that are full of flavor? More flavor and deeper color indicates increased nutrition, so the benefits are two-fold. The myth that delicious food has to be “bad” for you has always baffled me. Fruits and vegetables, along with meats that are kept in their true form, without genetic modification, or layers of pesticides, taste better. Strawberries are packed with nutrients especially vitamin C, anthocyanin antioxidants, and fiber. Strawberries have an amazing combination of phytonutrients including anthocyanins, ellagitannins, flavonols, terpenoids, and phenolic acids. There has been recent research on the effects of strawberries on lowering levels of inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP). These berries showed anti-inflammatory benefits when eaten one cup three times per week. For reference, eight large strawberries count as one cup. Strawberries are also high in antioxidants, which combat the damaging effects of free radical activity to cellular structures and DNA.

Strawberries are great raw, and will have the highest nutrient content left in their natural form. The berries from the farmers market are so sweet, that they do not need any added sugar, and I like to eat them whole for dessert. I also love sliced strawberries on a bed of fresh spinach with toasted walnuts, feta cheese, avocado, and balsamic dressing. I often freeze my berries if they are getting close to going bad and like to use them in banana berry smoothies with plain Greek yogurt, spinach, and coconut milk!

Come check out the abundance of strawberries this season at the Athens Farmers Market and do your own taste test!