September brings with it Pumpkin Spice Lattes, fall foliage and a bit of a nip in the air, but it’s not yet time to wave goodbye to the produce we’ve been relishing all summer.
“We’re right at the end of summer harvest so some of those fruits and vegetables that we’ve enjoyed are still in season,” says Libby Mills of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “We’ve got through the end of September to enjoy tomatoes, summer squash, some herbs that are more fragile like basil; arugula, green beans, cantaloupe. Stock up and enjoy them.”
And though time is of the essence for those produce picks, the change in season means we’re entering the harvest season for other fruits and vegetables like eggplant, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and endive.
Of course, autumn is synonymous with apples, and while Mills is all for adding them to your fall diet, just be sure to give them — and all other produce you stock up on this season — a good wash.
“It’s absolutely very important to wash all your produce, no matter what,” Mills says. “We sometimes think, ‘Oh, it’s from a farmers market, it’s cleaner’ — maybe, maybe not.” Indeed, your farmer might be spraying the produce with pesticides, and it’s easy to forget that produce comes into contact with dirt and animals.
But don’t feel like you have to buy one of those fancy vegetable washes to get your goods clean: “You really don’t have to go that far,” Mills says. “You can use just a light, soapy solution. Make sure you rinse it really well.” For an all-natural wash, she recommends adding 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water.
Talk like a farmer
A major benefit of visiting farmers markets is “you get to talk with the producer and ask them specifically how that product is grown,” Mills says. Then, you can weigh that information against your own values.
Some sample questions to ask: Do they use pesticides? How often? Do they mix organic and non-organic farming methods? If the answer to that last question is yes, don't fret. Some produce — like anything with a peel and anything not grown in the ground — is OK inorganic, because pesticides are less able to seep through.
Don’t be put off if you don’t see an organic label at your farmer's stand — turns out that label costs a pretty penny for a small farmer. Your produce might still “be in as natural a state as it can be,” Mills says — but you do have to ask.
In the GMO know
If your produce is certified organic it’s grown without any GMOs, though Mills does come to the defense of the science-bred foods.
“I think it’s important to recognize that they are a part of our food system, they are FDA-approved, and they are equally nutritious as organic versions,” she says. “For many people they represent an excellent choice."