By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Eating healthy for the best nutritional value is just a conversation away at the Stillwater Farmers Market where local producers display an assortment of seasonal crops — and will answer any questions about the food straight from the grower’s mouth.
“There’s no two ways about it — you’re getting the freshest foods you possibly can because most farmers have picked it the day before or that morning,” said Stillwater Farmers Market Manager Shonna Richardson. “You can’t get much fresher than that.”
Residents can easily make a change in their diets for better nutrition by shopping at the market. The rise of processed foods and a push for high-yield, single crop farms, is leading to not only soil degradation and water scarcity but also unhealthy consumers, Richardson said.
“We still need to educate some consumers that everything is local — so when tomatoes are in season — we will have tomatoes,” Richardson said. “We don’t have pineapples because you can’t grow a pineapple here except if you had a special greenhouse. Everything is grown locally — nothing is shipped in so it’s not a supermarket where produce is picked weeks ahead of time and flown in from 3,000 miles away.”
Everything is from Payne County and the surrounding counties of Logan, Lincoln, Creek, Pawnee and Noble. Our farmers offer food that’s raised for flavor, not because it ships well, she said.
Buying local strengthens the area food and farm economy, revitalizing rural and urban communities while improving health. Many customers bring their own shopping bags and there is little packaging involved with the items sold.
Herbalist Jacqui Savage said many of the local farmers adhere to various organic standards without acquiring a seal of authenticity. She personally avoids pesticides or herbicides and, when possible, will use organic soil and seeds. While that may not make her products 100 percent organic, she said customers at least know the food’s origins.
Angelina Pushkar of Aviva Fine Foods and Cheesecakes uses no preservatives and believes if you cannot pronounce the ingredients of chemical formulas on the packages, then you probably shouldn’t be eating it. Her sauerkraut is fresh so all the probiotic benefits are still in the product rather than being destroyed by processing. Pushkar said the probiotics help you absorb the nutrients in food.
“Heating or cooking sauerkraut results in the destruction of these precious probiotics,” she said with the fermentation process increasing nutritional value from the original cabbage creating a product low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium.
The colors of fruits and vegetables are signs of nutritional content. According to the American Cancer Society, a richly-colored red tomato has high levels of carotenoids such as lycopene which can help prevent cancer, as well as heart disease.
The relationship between nutrients and color is also true for other foods. Eggs that have brightly orange-colored yolks are also high cancer-fighting carotenoids and are more likely to be produced by healthier chickens. A study at the Harvard School of Public Health found a link between patients’ blood-level of carotenoids, compounds commonly found in colorful fruits and vegetable, and their feelings of optimism. To get fresh eggs from free range chickens at the Stillwater Farmers Market, Richardson recommends getting there early because they often sell out within an hour of opening.
K.B. Winterowd said he comes to the market for the health benefit of Lonesome Prairie’s buffalo meat provided by Kevin Henriksen. But, it is the dialogue with customers that keeps people coming back week after week, said Gary Hellman, Oklahoma State University director of faculty commons.
“Look at the interaction,” Hellman said as he pointed out that just as important as the leafy green vegetables and colorful flowers are the conversations with the people you meet at the farmers market.
“I can buy it here as cheap as I can grow it myself,” Hellman said. “But, this is a community gathering spot.”
All the people coming together is what brings folks back with lots of repeat customers who the farmers get to know like family. Summer Harvest Festival drew a crowd last Saturday with free grilled vegetables and buffalo burgers on fresh rolls. The Stillwater FFA served snow cones and the Stillwater Medical Center provided cold water bottles for visitors.
“Every year we celebrate summer harvest at the peak of our growing season when the colorful and tasty varieties of local grown food is at its height,” Richardson said.
More special days are planned with market members setting up a tent village from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays at Strickland Park, 309 N. Main St. Some vendors also set up outside the Stillwater Medical Center from 2-5:30 p.m. Mondays at 600 S. Adams. The market is open year-round moving to Pioneer Square shopping center in the fall and Northern Oklahoma College, corner of Hall of Fame Avenue and Monroe Street for the winter months.