By MIKE ROGGE
When is the last time you had a taste of fresh summer produce?
If you haven't taken advantage of the numerous opportunities to purchase and use locally grown produce, you haven't really experienced summer. If you haven't had peach juice spill down your chin onto your shirt as you were taking a bite, then you really haven't experienced summer. If you haven't asked yourself why tomatoes can't taste this good all year round, then you haven't experienced summer. These and countless other eating experiences are really what define the Midwest during summer. You just can't beat the taste of summer. And now is the time to enjoy it, because it will soon be gone.
How many of you can say you've eaten grapes fresh off the vine? I can guarantee you've never tasted something so sweet. The grapes you purchase in the store sure look nice, but they taste like cardboard. Same goes for Red Delicious apples (in my opinion). They sure look good, but they taste like cardboard. The same goes for fresh vegetables. They just taste so much better if they're picked at their ripest and eaten the day you pick them.
Ask your grandparents what they most remember about Christmas in their youth, and many will state it was the orange they received as a present. Can you imagine that today? Before we had refrigerated transportation and the interstate highway system, we mostly ate local. Oranges certainly aren't local, and 50 years ago, it took extraordinary means to get them shipped here, so they were a treat!
Why does fresh food taste so good? Because it was picked the day you bought it. And it was fully ripe with the maximum amount of sweetness and taste. You just can't say that about the produce you purchase in the store. Hopefully at some point in the future, stores will be able to secure enough local produce during the growing season that you'll be able to enjoy fresh produce, but it isn't possible now. As a result, they need to secure produce from throughout the country to stock their shelves. And during the winter months, they'll be using produce from around the world.
The simple fact is, you can't ship fresh produce. So produce is picked before it has a chance to ripen. Ripe produce bruises too easily and is much quicker to spoil. So it has to be picked before it reaches full flavor. And while it looks really good, the taste just isn't there.
But because so many people haven't experienced the taste of fresh-picked, many don't know the difference in taste. They've forgotten how great just-picked can taste.
Treat your family to the exceptional taste experience of just-picked. There are numerous opportunities to do so. The easiest is to attend one of many farmers markets in the area. Nearly every day there is one available.
You could also visit a local produce farm and purchase at the farm. There are a few stores in the area that carry local produce in season, but you'll need to ask and verify where the produce originated. Some stores will advertise local when the product was shipped in from several states away.
If you're looking for sources of fresh locally grown produce, consult our web page, web.extension.illinois.edu/abhps/localgrown/1052.html, for listings of area farmers markets as well as local farms where you can purchase produce, eggs, meat and more. And lastly, get out and enjoy the taste of summer before it's too late.