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Eat healthy with local foods
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"Now every field is clothed with grass, and every tree with leaves; now the woods put forth their blossoms, and the year assumes its gay attire." – Virgil

May marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. For some it may mean planting and tending vegetable plants and fruit trees with great expectations. Others of us are simply anticipating the first "fresh" fruits and vegetables since last summer.

Right now locally grown fresh strawberries and Vidalia onions are available and locally grown blueberries near the end of May. The beginning of June marks the opening of the Rockdale County Farm Bureau farmer’s market where you can find recently harvested, locally grown produce.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of everyone’s diet; these brightly colored foods play a very important role in helping maintain our health. They provide the body with essential nutrients such as potassium, foliate, vitamins A, C, and E, and fiber. They also contain natural plant chemicals, antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of many diseases and chronic conditions. In their natural form they are almost all very low in calories and fat. Fresh produce has the added advantage of no added sodium or other preservatives.

To extend your enjoyment of summer’s bounty consider preserving (freezing, canning, jellying, drying or fermenting) some of your favorites. Food preservation has been around for a very long time. "In ancient times the sun and wind would have naturally dried foods… Freezing was an obvious preservation method to the appropriate climates…Preservation with the use of honey or sugar was well known to the earliest cultures….Early cultures used salt to help desiccate [preserve by drying] foods" (Brian A. Nummer, Ph.D. National Center for Home Food Preservation). By following modern food preservation methods, you can produce a safe, nutritional product. You can purchase "So Easy to Preserve" a 375-page book with over 185 tested recipes, along with step by step instructions and in-depth information for the new or experienced food preserver available through your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s office or online at www.uga.extension/rockdale under Family and Consumer Sciences. Or you can attend the Preserving Your Harvest Series: Understanding Jellied Products on May 18; Home Canning Basics (Fruits & Tomatoes) on June 8; Low Acid Canning (Vegetables) on June 22 or Fermented and Pickled Foods on June 29 from 6 to 8 p.m. The cost is $15 per class or $50 for the whole series. Participants will receive course information and a preserved product (made during class) to take home with them. Come to the Rockdale County Cooperative Extension office at 1400 Parker Road, Lobby A, to register.

Enjoy the many pleasures of the summer season including all the wonderful produce to be had.

Cindee Sweda is the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent. She can be reached at (770) 278-7373.