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The power of produce
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My family, like many others, has planted a vegetable garden in our backyard. This year we even went so far as to put up a six foot fence to keep the deer out! Everyday I check on the progress of the plants. I saw the first flowers on my squash plants just the other day and many of our tomato plants have small green tomatoes on them. I am awaiting, rather impatiently, the fresh, flavorful vegetables we will enjoy this summer from our garden.

Even if you don't have a back yard garden you can enjoy fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables. This time of year farmer's markets, farm stands, and specialty stores are an excellent source of locally grown vegetables and fruits.

Rockdale Farm Bureau Farmer's Market opens today, June 13, at the "Parker Road Building" at 1400 Parker Road, Conyers. It will be operating Saturday and Tuesday mornings from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m., June through October.

The amazing thing about fruits and vegetables is that they are a naturally nutrient rich food. Naturally nutrient rich foods are foods that provide your body with high amounts of nutrients and relatively few calories. With so many to choose from, it's rather surprising that most people don't eat enough.

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. Make sure you mix up the colors of the fruits and vegetable that you eat; each color group provides the body with different phytonutrients such as lycopene found in the red fruits and vegetables and beta carotene found in the yellow/orange fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes I have to trick my family into incorporating fruits and vegetables in their diet. Try these sneaky combinations with your family: make a breakfast-style burrito by simply folding in scrambled eggs, beans, shredded low fat cheese and vegetables into a whole wheat tortilla; or you can make a veggie breakfast hash by sautéing shredded carrots, zucchini, peppers, onions and uncooked hash browns in canola oil until tender. Load up those sandwiches and hamburgers with lettuce, tomato, onion, or maybe even some fresh spinach. At dinner shred or finely chop your favorite vegetable and add them to meatloaf, casseroles, sauces, chili, soups and muffins. Feature fruit for dessert by serving a slice of angel food cake smothered and covered with your favorite fruit. You can purchase fruits and vegetables canned, frozen, dried or fresh. I personally like fresh fruits and vegetables because they have the most intense flavors and vibrant colors.
You should select fresh fruits and vegetables that are brightly colored and undamaged, making sure they are free of bruises, cuts, dark spots or blemishes. Avoid produce that is wilted or yellowing. Fruit and vegetables should be firm; soft and mushy may mean an over ripe product.

Remember to wash fruits and vegetables before eating or preparing them, not before storing them. Don't forget to wash the outside of all types of melons as well before cutting them to reduce the risk of contaminating the interior. Any microorganisms found on the outside of the melon will be carried by the knife to the inside fruit which would increase your risk of food borne illness. Cut melons that are not eaten immediately should be stored in the refrigerator.

For more information on growing, storing and preserving fruits and vegetables come by the Rockdale County Cooperative Extension office at 1400 Parker Road, Lobby A, Conyers.

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