The Covent Garden’s Outdoor Farmers’ Market opened Saturday, May 16, under a clear blue sky on a warm sunny day! During this crucial time, it’s essential to think about the importance of our food supply, health and nutrition. The desire to focus on local food systems may finally get the push it deserves as we seek out seasonal foods that nourish. This article will focus on what vegetables are in season right now and how to make the most of them.
Locally grown produce starts slowly in the variable temperatures that are experienced in May. However, a few cold-loving and fast-growing items are first to emerge. This unique, first to the market collection includes baby turnips, green garlic, radish, rhubarb and a wide variety of leafy greens and herbs. There are some common attributes to the vegetables on this list and some very distinct health benefits that should be of special interest to the public.
The Brassic family, formerly known as the cruciferous family, but commonly known as cabbage or mustard vegetables, are well represented in the first spring vegetables. These pungent tasting vegetables are either root types like baby turnips and radishes or leafy greens like kale and pok choi/bok choy. Even though both offer admirable amounts of soluble fibre, greens provide higher amounts of vitamins A, C, E, K and folate! There are health claims that Brassic vegetables are protective against some cancers, and chronic age-related diseases like cardiovascular disease. These health claims come from the phytochemical (plant chemical), specifically the antioxidant, glucosinolates which are sulphur-containing compounds that give these vegetables their strong taste. For optimal nutrients, you should consume these vegetables raw and fresh!
Green garlic or spring garlic from the Liliaceae family seems to be a well-kept secret amongst regular Farmers Market patrons. This doppelganger to the scallion (green onion) is usually only available until the end of May. Both the white bulb and green stalks are edible and have a mild nutty onion flavour that can be enjoyed cooked or raw. The health benefits of this immature garlic bulb are the same as mature garlic. It has a high amount of allicin, a powerful antioxidant and may boost the immune system when consumed in large quantities.
When season-extending growing methods are utilized, farmers can produce an extensive array of early leafy greens. You can find examples in spring mix salad and spinach available at the Farmers Market! The deep green colour is so appealing, and it provides you with lutein that may help decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration. On top of that, they are sources good vitamins A, C, K and iron as well as some dietary fibre!
A spring Farmer’s market would not be complete without rhubarb! It is the stem (petioles) of the oversized leaf that is the edible portion; the leaf is poisonous due to the high content of oxalic acid. This slightly sweet but tart vegetable is more commonly considered a fruit and often referred to as a pie plant. After 1775, when sugar became more plentiful, rhubarb gained appreciation. Although it can be consumed raw, the most common method of preparation cut in chunks, and cooked with sugar. Rhubarb can also be frozen for use later but will last up to 3 weeks when refrigerated. It pairs nicely with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon and is often combined with strawberries. Rhubarb is low in calories, has Vitamin A, C, K and Calcium and dietary fibre. It has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol, and the presumed antioxidant effect may offer some benefits to the immune system.
As farmer markets continue to open up, keep an eye out for these nutritionally dense and fresh vegetables!
About the author: Susan Smith is a volunteer at the MLFPC with long-standing expertise in nutrition. She graduated from UWO, Brescia University College in 1995 and has been a clinical dietitian at the London Health Science Center for almost 25 years! Susan has a keen interest in sustainable food systems that create a harmonious urban-rural relationship with a focus on community health and a minimal carbon footprint.