Sunday, May 18, 2008

Local Mo' Bettah

Does the cost of food seem out of this world lately? Oil prices are sending imported produce prices to the moon, while locally grown fruits and veggies seem to be still down to earth these days. Locally grown produce is generally fresher, better tasting, and more environmentally friendly, and many folks who are frequenting farmers markets are discovering that it’s the cheapest way to feed themselves, too. Every time I visit Hawaii farmers markets I’m reminded of how lucky we are here on the Big Island, the bread basket – or should I say poi calabash – of the Islands.

The downtown Hilo farmers markets and the Maku’u farmers market in Puna had some excellent buys this weekend: a full basket of honey-sweet, luscious Waimea strawberries for $3; buttery avocados – Hawaii Organic Farmers Association-certified – for $1.50 each; big bags of hydroponic Manoa lettuce for $2.50. Kumu 'Aina Farm was also at Maku’u, offering local vanilla beans and chemical-free macadamia nuts for sale along with their organic tropical fruits. Yum!

Of course, the absolute freshest, cheapest produce you can get is that which you grow yourself, and farmers markets are great places to look for healthy starts for your garden. At Maku’u market small nurseries offered herbs, vegetables, fruit trees, bamboo and other tropical ornamentals at reasonable prices. Small-time growers sometimes offer plants that you might never see in a bricks and mortar garden store, such as the many unusual varieties of ‘awa being offered by Poki Fruits. And don’t forget that you can try propagating some of the fruits and veggies that you buy to eat too, by saving some seeds of fruit, or vegetatively by replanting a piece of ginger or sweet potato, for example.

As we hit the summer months it’s a good time to get some tomato starts in the ground, or even in a container on the lanai – think of those cool, refreshing salads! Remember that the most fruit-fly resistant varieties are ones with thicker skins, such as cherry tomatoes and Roma types. Short on space and time? Perhaps the easiest culinary delights to grow, provided your area gets full sun, are herbs. Try basil, oregano, and cilantro in window boxes to add to savory sauces. Don’t forget to keep a separate pot of mint for iced drinks, too. Ahh….

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