It’s hard to deny the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. Dozens of research studies show that the more produce we eat, the lower our risk of developing a number of serious illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Although winter may not seem like the ideal time to enjoy garden-fresh produce, some of the healthiest and most affordable fruits and vegetables are actually in season (and even grown locally) during the coolest months of the year.
According to researchers, although all fruits and vegetables appear to protect us against disease, green leafy vegetables such as dark-colored lettuce, spinach, and Swiss chard; cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale; and citrus fruits top the list of super-veggies. Interestingly, all of these are cool-weather crops!
Winter is a prime-growing season in some parts of Arizona. Yuma County alone produces a whopping 90% of the U.S. lettuce supply each winter, along with thousands of pounds of broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, citrus fruit and dates. However, thanks to the efforts of some hard-working farmers, many of the healthiest winter vegetables are grown locally, and are for sale at the Prescott Winter Farmers Market.
Winter days in the Prescott area are pretty mild, but the nights are cold, and it takes some effort to keep tender plants alive. Shanti Rade, owner of Whipstone Farm in Paulden, describes some of the tricks of the trade. “We shuffle our storage crops around and use back-up heaters at night to make sure the onions, sweet potatoes and winter squash pull through the freezing nights. The plants in our greenhouses seem to handle the cold weather just fine, but we snug them up with extra frost blankets at night and remove them during the day”.
The Winter Prescott Farmers Market is open now through the last week in April in two convenient locations: in Prescott at the Pendleton Wellness Center, 930 Division Street, Saturdays 10-1 (closed December 24th) and Prescott Valley, at the Harkins Theater, on the corner of Glassford Hill Road and Park Avenue, Tuesdays from 2-5 pm. On a recent Saturday, huge piles of multi-colored carrots, beautiful heads of deep red and green lettuce, crimson beets, three types of radishes, fresh spinach, bok choy, green onions, garlic, cilantro, sweet potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, winter squash, crunchy Jerusalem artichokes, and even fresh herbs, like dill, cilantro, and parsley were for sale.
Vegetables grown in the winter have more flavor than the same crops grown in warmer months. Carrots, jicama, beets, parsnips and other root vegetables taste sweeter. Greens develop a stronger, more robust flavor that goes really well with lots of garlic. For some winter vegetable recipe ideas, check out the winter salad and roasted root soup segments in Your Healthy Kitchen.
If you can’t make it to the Prescott Farmers Market, the produce sections of grocery stores are also packed with fresh winter produce. Frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as canned, are also nutritious, and can be a convenient and economical way to eat well during the winter season. Just remember to fill half of your plate at lunch and dinner with fruits and vegetables and you will be on your way to better health!