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Go local for health

By Grace Caplan, RD

A healthy pregnancy is just a farmers market trip away. Why not encourage your desire to eat by picking up some of the freshest, most nutrient-packed items to enjoy for the week to come? Flathead Valley farmers markets are so much more than just produce; they are a chance to enjoy time with your loved ones while supporting local small businesses. Shop artisan breads and cheeses, grab items for a quick picnic dinner or hit up the local food trucks to satisfy your cravings – and don’t forget about the live music and kid-friendly attractions! Montana was recently ranked seventh in the nation for the availability of locally produced food. Take advantage all season long!

Not sure where to start? Follow these steps to make the most out of your farmers market experience and optimize your healthy pregnancy.

First, find your market. Don’t limit yourself to the market closest to home, as each option has something different to offer. All of our local markets have a Facebook page or website. Check out the listing of vendors and plan ahead.

  • Bigfork: Wednesdays, 3-6 p.m. at the Masonic Temple
  • Columbia Falls: Thursdays, 5-9 p.m. at Eagles Nest Antiques and Home Decor
  • Kalispell: Saturdays, 9 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. at Flathead Valley Community College
  • Whitefish: Tuesdays, 5-7:30 p.m. at Depot Park
Food safety
Anyone consuming fresh or local items should practice food safety protocols, but this is especially true for pregnant women. Stick to these basic guidelines to ensure that your farmers market finds are safe to consume.

Produce: Wash all fruits and veggies thoroughly under running water before cutting, cooking or eating. Make sure to do this even if you plan on peeling the produce before eating. Bacteria can by transferred to the inside when you slice and dice. Refrigerate your prepared fruits and vegetables within 2 hours.

Dairy: Raw milk can contain dangerous microorganisms like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, so do not purchase unless the vendor can confirm that the milk has been pasteurized. Pregnant women should also avoid soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert and blue veined cheeses.

Protein: Farmers markets are an excellent place to find free range chicken eggs, as well as other varieties like duck, hen and pheasant. Eggs should be kept in coolers at the market to ensure they are properly chilled. Before purchasing, check that no eggs are cracked and the shells are clean. Meat should also be kept cold while on display and during the trip home. Insulated shopping bags are available for purchase at most grocery stores; bring one along just in case. Keep your protein separate from produce to prevent cross contamination.

Bring your own bag
Yes, most vendors will provide plastic grocery bags, but you’re better off bringing your own to the event. Not only is it better for the environment, but your own cloth bag will be much more comfortable on your shoulder.

Bring small bills
Your vendors will thank you. Most farmers markets are cash only. Don’t rely on an on-site ATM being available. Think of it as improving your karma each time you pay in exact change. If you receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, you can still buy local. Ask your desired vendor if they accept SNAP benefits or check with the market coordinator beforehand.

Find the deals
Shop directly after the market opens for the best selection. The finest berries and first melons of the season will go quick, so it pays to get there early. If you’re focused on savings, wait until the last hour to do your shopping. Vendors may offer discounts at the end of the day to avoid hauling unpurchased items back to the farm.

Try something new
Make a goal to try one new item each week. You may surprise yourself and find a new love. Having a hard time getting your little ones to eat their fruits and veggies? Try bringing your child along and allowing them to take part in picking out the foods. The more invested they are, the more likely they will be to actually eat the item once it’s home. Don’t be afraid to ask your vendors for cooking tips or recipes. If you don’t enjoy it, at worst you made a contribution to a local business and can try again next week.

You picked your farmers market and loaded up the car, but what should you be focused on purchasing? The physical demands of pregnancy can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can be remedied by taking a daily prenatal vitamin and eating a balanced diet. By purchasing foods rich in calcium, iron and folate, you can decrease your risk of deficiencies and related complications. What you consume is the first form of nourishment your baby receives in his or her life, so feed them some of the best our state has to offer.

Calcium is a vital building block in developing your baby’s bones and teeth, heart health, and blood clotting abilities. If you do not consume enough calcium while pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which could impair your own health later on. Every local farmers market is full of excellent sources of calcium such as pasteurized cheese and milk. If you are sensitive to dairy, focus on alternative sources like dried beans, figs, bok choy and kale.

Iron consumption is most often associated with anemia in pregnancy. During pregnancy your body requires almost twice as much iron to make enough blood for your baby. Purchase local beef, pork or poultry for your weekly iron and protein boost. Spinach and kale, which can be used in a salad or fruit smoothie, are great vegetarian options.

Folate, or folic acid, is a B vitamin that plays an important role in red blood cell production and helps your baby’s neural tube develop into the brain and spinal cord. Look for fresh dark leafy greens including spinach, collard greens and turnip greens. Asparagus, broccoli, strawberries and raspberries also are excellent sources of folate.

Enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of the season!

First published in Montana Woman magazine, August 2016