Storing Fresh Produce During A Pandemic

Post by UNH Student and Seacoast Eat Local Intern, Chris G.

In recent weeks, we have been expected to practice social distancing and are at home for an extended period of time. As a result of this, it has been common in past weeks for people to buy in bulk. If you prefer this method in favor of avoiding person to person contact, it is important to keep track of shelf life related to each item you are using. This post will aim to cover the fruits and vegetables that last the longest.

Onions: All types of onions will last you approximately one month in refrigeration. A good method for prolonging their shelf life is to store at room temperature in a paper or mesh produce bag. Spoiled onions tend to soften, and turn brown in color. 

Potatoes: These root vegetables will last 2-5 weeks at room temperature, and up to four months in refrigeration. Once prepared into foods such as french fries or mashed potatoes, they can be frozen and will last an astounding eight months. Cool, dry storage for potatoes and any other root vegetables is best; if you have space in your basement this works optimally. 

Carrots: Whole carrots will last about a month if kept in a produce bag in refrigeration. On the contrary, baby carrots will last a maximum of four weeks due to the moisture in their packaging. Blanched carrots can be frozen and will last even longer. 

Squash: The most common types of squash will last 1-3 months at room temperature. Ensure they are in-tact; any break in the skin will result in faster spoilage. 

Garlic: Un-chopped can last up to a year, giving it the longest shelf life on this list. As with the root vegetables on this list, a cool dry place is optimal. Can be kept in a brown paper or mesh bag like onions. Once peeled or processed in any way, ensure garlic is kept in a refrigerated container to prevent spoilage. 

Cabbage: Cabbages can have a shelf life anywhere up to two months if handled properly. These vegetables last longest when kept dry; and will last longer if you refrain from washing until use. If you are only using half of the cabbage, the remainder can be dried using a paper towel before refrigeration. Additionally, storing them in a cooled crisper drawer of refrigerators is optimal. 

Apples: These popular snacks can last up to 2 months in refrigeration. A good practice, as always, is to buy local when they are in-season. Bulk apples pre-packaged in bags often come with one or two moldy apples and bruise much easier in transit. Additionally, it is often challenging to notice bruising in bagged apples when purchased at the supermarket. Many apple orchards have sophisticated storage rooms that enable apples to last into April in May.

Citrus Fruits (although not locally available): Limes, oranges, lemons etc. These last approximately 14 days if held at room temperature, but can last a month or two in refrigeration. Ensure that your citrus fruits are stored in draws and not in containers. This is applicable to fruits which are not peeled. You can check for spoilage of citrus fruits simply by the touch, a softer discolored rhine can often mean the fruit has some amount of spoilage.

Remember that even in times of isolation, local food products are still a click away. Many smaller farmers markets still take place in the seacoast area, with the aim to reduce the rapid spread of novel coronavirus. For updates on where you can buy local food products during this time, visit seacoastharvest.org/safe

Does New Hampshire Have Food Deserts?

Post written by UNH student and Seacoast Eat Local intern Meriah M.

Your local convenience store is probably familiar to you for the many times you’ve stopped for a cup of coffee, a pack of gum, or your favorite candy bar. You probably don’t find yourself shopping for groceries among the air fresheners and snack mixes. For one reason, these items cost more than they do at the local grocery store, and for another, in most instances, you can’t find the fruits, vegetables, meats, or dairy products that you need to prepare a balanced meal.  

However, across the United States, there are many people for which these stores are some of the only options to regularly buy food. These areas are known as food deserts, which the USDA defines as areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food. Living in a food desert makes a person more likely to experience food insecurity, even when receiving food assistance because there are few places to use SNAP benefits (food stamps) where nutritious food is available. 

New Hampshire’s food landscape is defined by the state’s rural communities and limited public transportation options, which creates a challenge for many low-income families looking to shop for healthy groceries. Using the USDA’s Economic Research Service Food Access Research Atlas, census tracts (a geographic region used for understanding the demographics of a portion of a county) that have low-income and low-access qualities can be identified (see picture). 

Decoding the Food Access Map (pictured): Tracts highlighted in green, including parts of almost every county in New Hampshire, contain areas that are characterized by low-income and low-access, meaning that a significant number of residents are more than one mile from the nearest supermarket in urban settings or more than ten miles from the nearest supermarket in rural settings. Additionally, tracks highlighted in yellow show areas where lack of vehicle access poses a challenge to residents, with the regions having either more than 100 housing units do not have a vehicle and are more than ½ mile from the nearest supermarket, or a significant number or share of residents are more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket.

There are many areas in New Hampshire where people have limited access to nutritious food,  some areas are served exclusively by convenience stores, which do not stock fruit and vegetables to the extent that grocery stores do. A 2010 report from UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy found a correlation in the state where areas that have lower food access also have higher rates of health conditions like diabetes and obesity, which are linked to diet. These adverse effects of lack of food access have prompted innovative ways to make healthy food available in underserved areas. 

In Hawaii, a local organization has pioneered online shopping experiences that empower SNAP recipients to buy locally produced fruit, vegetable, meat, and dairy products online. A similar program supported by the USDA operates in New York, however, instead of local retailers, the food will be supplied by Amazon, ShopRite, and Walmart. 

Right here in New Hampshire, Seacoast Eat Local is bringing food access to residents with the Seacoast Area Mobile Market (SAMM). The SAMM serves seacoast communities that have high concentrations of low-income or at-risk residents, are designated as being at higher risk for food insecurity, or have a reportedly high number of residents with lack of access to consistent means of transportation — targeting some of the green and yellow areas of the food access map. As with the stationary farmers’ markets, shoppers can use their SNAP benefits to purchase food at the SAMM and participate in the Granite State Market Match program, receiving a dollar for dollar match to double their purchasing power of fruits and vegetables. 

In areas where food options are limited to convenience stores, the Seacoast Area Mobile Market serves as an important access point for nutritious foods that everyone should have as part of their diet, regardless of their geographic location or income level. 

Follow the Seacoast Area Mobile Market on Instagram @SAMMVAN!

Safe Food Purchasing and Storage

Due to unprecedented events, Seacoast Eat Local has cancelled our winter farmers’ markets in March and April. This can be disheartening to those who enjoy the fresh food, food samples, and social camaraderie. In the absence of larger markets in the near future, Seacoast Eat Local has encouraged vendors to collaborate on small popup markets of roughly 3-5 to adhere to social distancing rules and avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Many farms and food providers are also developing new and creative solutions such as online ordering and delivery.

For information on how to still access local food vendor options, please visit www.seacoastharvest.org/safe

It is of importance not only to know where local food can be located but how to preserve these foods as long as possible to minimize travel and thus mitigate the risk of coming in contact with others during this crucial time. Many have raided grocery stores, leaving shelves of essential items empty. 

Reusable produce storage bags prolong freshness of vegetables through retaining moisture as opposed to storing them in sealed containers of plastic bags that are not breathable. Mushrooms are the exception to this; they are best stored in a closed paper bag, and not washed. Be sure to keep produce storage bags moist to retain freshness. These can be purchased online through companies such as Vejibag.

Many root vegetables are actually better stored dry, and not in the fridge. Potatoes, onions and garlic, for example, can be kept in a dry place for a month whereas refrigeration speeds up their biodegradation. Citrus fruits are also best stored at room temperature, as opposed to the fridge. 

In many instances, green/leafy vegetables are stored in refrigeration damp due to having been previously washed. If you do not finish consuming an entire head of lettuce, for example, consider drying the remaining lettuce with a napkin or paper towel. This will prevent it from becoming soggy and rotten too quickly. 

Finally, if your produce is pre-cut/prepackaged, or you have processed it and are saving for later, ensure produce is refrigerated. 

If you are curious about the handling and storage of produce, please visit the FDA’s website at https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/selecting-and-serving-produce-safely. Though the closing of larger markets limits our access to fresh, local food products, there are ways around this barrier through vendor collaboration and proper storage. For prevention of transmitting COVID-19, the most accurate information can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s website, www.cdc.gov.

 

The Man Behind Nutrition Incentive Programs

Post by Seacoast Eat Local Intern and UNH Student Meriah M.

Who is Gus Schumacher?

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be found in all of America’s kitchens regardless of the income of the household, however, access to affordable produce is out of financial reach for many low-income families. Gus Schumacher had served as an advocate for these families since 1980 in his capacity as an agricultural policy leader and Co-Founder of Wholesome Wave, an organization dedicated to supporting the healthy food purchasing ability of underserved families. 

Schumacher championed the importance of healthy food access, conceiving a program that would motivate low-income consumers to buy more fruits and vegetables by increasing their purchasing power and in turn, their ability to purchase healthy food. The power and reach of Schumacher’s innovative new approach to promoting fruit and vegetable consumption among underserved populations expanded to a broad network of what are now known as Nutrition Incentive Programs supported by federal grants, including Seacoast Eat Local’s very own Market Match. When Gus Schumacher died in 2017, the nutrition incentive grant program was renamed to the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), honoring Schumacher’s dedication to universal access to affordable fruits and vegetables. 

We have Schumacher’s innovative agricultural spirit and passion for food access to thank for the implementation of many nutrition incentive programs. After gaining diverse experience in various food and agricultural sectors, Schumacher went on to serve as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, where he oversaw the Farm Service Agency, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Risk Management Agency. Schumacher made invaluable contributions to the Department of Agriculture, impacting the lives of food assistance recipients, farmers, and his colleagues alike. 

In Schumacher’s role as founder and Vice President of Wholesome Wave, he increased the ability of low-income people to access healthy, local foods that spurred the creation of similar programs across the country. Wholesome Wave was built on the Double Value Coupon Program, the same dollar for dollar fruit and vegetable match program that Granite State Market Match provides today. 

Gus Schumacher’s death on September 24th of 2017 was met with great sadness, and his loss was felt deeply by all those in his life, including those involved in his food access advocacy work. It is with great appreciation for Schumacher that nutrition incentive programs move forward, serving his mission to provide healthy, delicious, farm-grown food to all. 

How to Incorporate Local Vegetables Into Your Winter Eating

Post by UNH student and Seacoast Eat Local intern, Chris G.

At the February 8th market in Exeter High School, the focus of my food demo was root vegetables and incorporating them into a fully balanced meal. Root vegetables are an imperative source of Vitamins A, B and C, fiber, iron and antioxidants. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that in the diet, half of grains be whole grain, and vegetables be from a variety of subcategories including dark green, red/orange, beans/legumes, and starches (potatoes.) Keep in mind that 50% of the population reach the recommended dietary fiber intake daily, 38g for men and 25g for women. Not only can a vegetable medley cover the recommended subcategories necessary for healthy eating patterns, but these vegetables are easy to store for long period during the cold months, whether it be dry storage or in the refrigerator.



 

The goal of a root vegetable hash/medley is to incorporate a variety of different root vegetables into one serving to cover the widest range of nutrition possible. Open year-round, Brandmoore Farm offers this variety of ingredients as well as other items such as dairy and meat. Here is an outline of the process I used for a recent farmers’ market market:


 

For a root vegetable medley, I use organic carrots, russet potatoes and golden beets. Slice them the way you like, and toss in olive oil. Olive oil is one of the few dietary staples I like to pair with veggies, as it offers a large amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats-great for the heart! Additionally, this can be paired with any source of protein (eggs, chicken, steak), for any meal of the day, which makes it a versatile option on any menu!

 

Market Match Across the United States

Post by Intern and UNH Student Meriah M.

Here in New Hampshire shoppers using SNAP (formerly food stamps) are able to double their buying power at farmers markets through the Granite State Market Match program, where food assistance benefits are matched with vouchers to purchase fruits and veggies from local farms. 

Across the country there are programs similar to Granite State Market Match, commonly known as nutrition incentive programs, that help low-income shoppers buy more fresh produce. 

California is home to another Market Match program that parallels the Granite State Market Match in its goals to provide additional income for SNAP shoppers to use at local farmers markets. The California Market Match program is funded by the same grant that supports Granite State Market Match, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant, with the Ecology Center implementing and overseeing the program. In both New Hampshire and California, the FINI Grant (now called the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program) supports efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP recipients. 

Since the program was originally founded in 2009, Market Match in California has evolved to best support low-income consumers and local farms. At its inception, California’s Market Match looked similar to the current structure of the Granite State Market Match, with community-based partnerships of market operators and local organizations that created the California Market Match Consortium (CMMC) facilitating the program. What started as a program offered at 44 markets has expanded to 290 sites across the state. 

Though it is helpful for states to model various programs on the success of other states, programs will differ based on the culture, location, and government of each state. One obvious difference between California and New Hampshire is the climate, lending to significantly different agricultural products and timelines that effect when and where fresh produce is available. Outside of physical differences that affect farmers’ market shoppers, there are differences in the way Market Match is allocated. As in New Hampshire, California shoppers are able to get $1 to $1 SNAP dollars matched for produce vouchers, but only up to $10 depending on the market’s Market Match budget. In New Hampshire, shoppers are not limited by Granite State Market Match as to how much they can spend and customers will commonly match $20 or $30 at a time. 

In California, WIC benefits (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) can also be used for the Market Match Program, allowing new mothers and children up to the age of five another opportunity to engage with Market Match and in turn, local farms. In New Hampshire, Market Match is currently limited to SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). 

Access to affordable, healthy, local food is important everywhere in America, and it is exciting to see New Hampshire and California pioneering unique Market Match programs that benefit low-income consumers and local farmers. Evaluating the various ways states implement nutrition incentive programs will lead to better informed national policy and solutions to address food insecurity. 

Food Insecurity Legislation in NH

Blog post written by Intern Meriah M.

Innovative Solutions to Food Insecurity in the NH General Court — HB 1638

How can New Hampshire best serve its citizens who struggle to access affordable, nutritious food? Representative Joelle Martin of Milford introduced House Bill 1638 this session seeking to provide an answer. 

The New Hampshire Nutrition Incentives Network has worked to increase affordable access to locally grown food since 2013 through the Granite State Market Match Program, which allows shoppers using SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps) to double their buying power at farmers markets. When shoppers spend their SNAP dollars at participating markets, they receive a corresponding amoung of Market Match dollars that can be spent on fruits or vegetables. For the cost of $10, a shopper can leave the market with $20 worth of food, creating an incentive to shop and eat local, healthy foods while stretching a grocery budget. 

 

While Granite State Market Match has made significant differences in the lives of the residents that it serves, it is currently only reaching 2% of New Hampshire’s SNAP recipients because it has been operating as a pilot program supported by the federal grants. There is tremendous opportunity for Granite State Market Match and other nutrition incentive programs to grow with state funding. 

Here is where Representative Martin’s bill matters: House Bill 1638 would continue to support and expand equitable access to healthy food by providing $150,000 in state funding to nutrition incentive programs, including Market Match. This financial support would allow for nutrition incentive programs to reach more SNAP recipients, providing healthier, locally sourced meals for more New Hampshire residents. 

The local, community-based nature of nutrition incentive programs provides added benefits. The Market Match program helps farmers to access a previously untapped revenue stream: SNAP dollars. For some market vendors, 20% of their revenue comes from SNAP shoppers. 

HB 1638 received a hearing in January before the House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee in which many individuals and organizations testified to the success and importance of nutrition incentive programs in New Hampshire. 

As legislators review this bill, the voices of New Hampshire residents strongly influence their perspective. You can support the affordable access to healthy, local foods and the efforts of Seacoast Eat Local by contacting the committee by phone (271-3589) or by email ([email protected]). 

Welcome our Nutrition Intern Chris!

Post by UNH Nutrition and Dietetics Intern Chris G.

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in my first Public Nutrition Education internship with Seacoast Eat Local. Not only did all of my food samples go within the first two hours of market, but we had an excellent turnout-over 2,500 people showing up to the Wentworth Greenhouses!

The reason I took on this internship is due to the fact that as an undergrad Nutrition major, I believe it is of utmost importance to know where your food is coming from. Whereas most products in the supermarket are processed in a factory before placement on the shelf, buying and eating locally are both excellent ways of knowing our fruits, vegetables, meat, spices, and other products are fresh and minimally processed. 

Starting off this past weekend, I picked up some red potatoes from Emery Farm on Piscataqua Road in Durham, NH. These are not only easy to make, but additionally are delicious, can be paired with just about any protein source, and through minimal processing are beneficial to our health. The skin of the potato is rich in Potassium and Vitamin C, and provides ~2 grams of fiber per potato, depending on the size. Additionally, these potatoes you may have tasted were made with olive oil, which is high in unsaturated fat-the kind that is shown to lower LDL (bad cholesterol) while raising HDL (good cholesterol). 

Here is the quick, easy process I use to make potato wedges from scratch!

1. First off, I soften the potatoes through boiling for roughly 20 minutes (vary by size).


2. Once potatoes are soft enough to poke through with a fork, strain potatoes and allow to cool, and split each into fourths. On a baking sheet, drizzle olive oil (enough to lightly cover the pan), and season to your taste! For this recipe, I used a Rosemary/Parsley/Salt blend, however you can use your favorite seasoning.



3. Finally, bake wedges in a preheated oven at 450 degrees for roughly 15-20 minutes. The result should be a delicious potato wedge that melts in your mouth!



That is about all it takes. Again, using simple ingredients on cooking such as olive oil and herbs are a great measure to take in preventing intake of harmful additives which larger-scale manufacturers may use in their processed products. Enjoy!

 

Consider the Effects of Pesticides on Your Food Choices

Blog post by SEL Intern and UNH Student Samantha Lent

Pesticides are substances used to repel or kill plants and animals that are pests to the crop. There are different types of pesticides: chemical pesticides and biopesticides. According to London Emergency Pest Control, some of the most chemical pesticides include organophosphates and carbamates. Biopesticides are plant-incorporated, biochemical, or microbial pesticides. All of these are highly used in agriculture, households, and even on ourselves with bug spray. The health effects of pesticides are still being researched, but their use has been in correlation with cancer, diabetes, and neurological effects.

Los Angeles Bed Bug Exterminator have listed out some benefits of pesticides are that they help control disease organisms. Pesticides can protect our homes and health by controlling insects like termites and in extreme cases of rodent populations. Also, they protect our drinking water and medical instruments. Additionally, we as consumers gain from pesticide usage by lower costs and a wider selection of food and clothing. This is especially helpful for the various parts of the world that fight for hunger, but it should be noted that food production is also negatively affected by pesticide use. Food is often lacking in nutrients, flavor, and other qualities after prolonged pesticide use.

Chemical pesticides are the pesticides that are most harmful to our health. A short amount of time with a large amount of these chemicals can result in poisoning. This increases the risk for farmers who frequently touch and breathe these pesticides in. This is where the research is unclear, but some studies link them to cancer, diabetes, and neurological defects. Chronic and low-dose exposure to pesticides increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, exposure to pesticides has been correlated with increased infertility in women and developmental issues in children. You should also be aware of pests inside your house that may infect your food. Kevin Scappaticci from Platinum Bat Removal acknowledges the importance of bats to the ecosystem of Michigan as they are a natural form of pest control. The problem starts when there are bats in the attic of someone’s home. They can cause structural damage and their feces contains a fungal spore that is toxic.

When possible, it is best to reduce exposure to pesticides, especially in groups that are more susceptible, such as pregnant women and children. At local farmers’ markets and farm stands, one-on-one conversation between the consumer and farmer is the best way to learn about how food was produced. The farmer is available to answer any questions on how the food was produced, and if pesticides were used. Purchasing organic foods is another way to make sure there are no unnecessary pesticides if the farmer is not around to answer questions.

Furthermore, pesticide use is being analyzed and regulated by organizations like the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization. Before the EPA allows pesticides to be used on crops, it sets a maximum tolerance for each treated food and if more than that limit is being used, then the government will take action. Make sure when you buy food you are aware of how that food was produced. Purchasing food that is free of harmful pesticides is the safest for you, your family, and your farmer!

Taking the Farmers’ Market Experience to Schools

Guest post by Maggie Morrison, Oyster River School District Sustainability Coordinator

There is an adage that you learn the many ways to navigate being an adult in kindergarten.  With a precious dollar gripped in their fists, 5 and 6 year-olds had a chance to visit a mini indoor farmers market at Mast Way Elementary School, in Lee.   Each of the four kindergarten classes got an introduction of the ways to visit a farmer’s market and purchase vegetables, fruit and flowers grown on local farms.   Four Durham and Lee farmers gave the children an opportunity to visit tables displayed with orange pumpkins, multicolored carrots, red crisp apples, shiny green and red peppers. Farmers from Teece, Do-Be-Doo, Pinewood Yankee and Tuckaway welcomed students as each classroom took turns visiting the market.  Now in its third year, this farmers market experience marks the end of a unit of study on farming and where your food comes from. New this year was a tasting table sponsored by Seacoast Eat Local. Unusual vegetables to a 5 year-old palate were offered by Shelly Smith, SEL program coordinator as an opportunity to be brave and try something new.  Students received a coveted sticker if they tried a bite of a watermelon radish, a slice of a crunchy kohlrabi, or a pea shoot.

Weeks earlier, children experienced the first field trip of their academic years by visiting Tuckaway Farm in Lee, NH.  Students walked up the road lined with farm equipment and the last vestiges of the farms’ crops. Students eagerly helped to shuck corn and beans while learning all about the importance of these “three sisters” crops used in indigenous farming.   A horse drawn wagon ride took them to a potato field where they got a chance to dig in the dirt to discover the round yellow orb of a German Butterball potato.

Back in school, Oyster River’s Sustainability Coordinator, Maggie Morrison ask if the students were farmers, only a few hands flew up.  “You’re all farmers!” Morrison enthusiastically explained. “On your visit to Tuckaway, you did the harvest work of the farmer.” Although simple in explanation, these experiences are what kindergarten teacher, Mary Ellen Webb hopes will take root as these students grow up.   “This experience will help a young generation of students become comfortable with visiting local farmers markets. We’re hoping that students will encourage their parents to visit local markets and support local agriculture.” As the days get shorter into the winter months, if one child’s visit to a local farm and farmers’ market has a lasting memory and transforms later to an interest in farming or a lifelong habit of supporting local agriculture, it will be a visit well spent.

For questions email [email protected]