avocado regional food vs local food

Tropical fruit in Virginia?! Regional food vs local food

Regional food vs local food: What’s the difference?


By the Veggie Fairy Team

Sometimes it’s obvious: If an apple comes from New Zealand, it’s not local, at least not here in Virginia. If it’s an avocado like the one in the picture, that didn’t grow round these parts, either. But what if it comes from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, or even Florida?

What’s the difference between regional food vs local food?

There’s no official definition for ‘local food’ or ‘regional food’. Seasonal Roots considers food ‘local’ if it’s grown or made within about 150 miles of where we deliver. We call it ‘regional’ if it’s outside that range but can still get to us within a day or so of harvest without flying.

Any further than that and it isn’t fresh enough or nutritious or flavorful enough for us, and probably comes with a bigger carbon foot-print, too. Click here to read why local — and regional — produce is better for you.

So most of our online farmers market items are local, and in the winter we add regional items from Florida.

One thing you’ll never see in our market is anything from New Zealand, or even California. (And nothing grown by Big Industrial Agriculture, either. We partner with family farmers only.)

What if I want to eat local food only?

regional food vs local foodTake a good look at this picture. Can you tell the local food from the regional food in that basket-worth of items? When you’re shopping our online farmers market, you never have to guess because we always tell you where it was grown by which family farmer.

That’s important, because some of our members take satisfaction in eating only what nature can provide in season here in Virginia. They keep all their food dollars local and avoid things like tropical fruits that don’t grow this far north. After all, humans survive just fine on different diets the world over.

Other members enjoy the variety that regional options offer, especially in winter. When snow’s on the ground, they’re willing to go a little farther afield to enjoy produce like oranges and avocados grown by family farmers in Florida.

Seasonal Roots is here to support your choice, whether you choose to eat 100% local or occasionally go regional. We always make it clear where each item in our online farmers market is grown or made. That way you can choose the food that’s right for you, good for you, and still good for our planet, too!

For tropical fruit lovers: Meet V&B Farms

Tropical fruits are an important part of a healthy diet — as pirates and other seafarers discovered when they got scurvy! But citrus doesn’t grow in Virginia.

So as part of our commitment to eat food from the closest farms possible, during the winter months we partner with V&B Farms in Florida. These Sunshine State farmers can grow the citrus and other tropical and summery fruits like those avocados that we need for a healthy diet – but can’t grow up here in Virginia.

Coming from nearby Florida, V&B’s produce will travel far less than produce from California or Central and South America. That means it’s fresher, riper, tastier, and still packed with nutrients. And it’s better for the environment, since less travel equals less pollution.

v and b farms regional foodThe farmers behind V&B are Tommy Vick and Brandon Boyd, who have known each other since they were in diapers.

Tommy’s a fourth generation farmer who was driving the family’s tractors by the time he was seven. Now he volunteers his time at local schools to help promote the next generation of Florida growers.

Brandon’s a fifth generation horticulturist. With a degree in horticulture technology, he has worked on research to make aquaponics more sustainable.

We’re glad to support Tommy and Brandon as they focus on the future of local, sustainable farming right here in our region!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

love local leeks recipes & health benefits

How I learned to love leeks

Recipes & health benefits to help you love leeks at the farmers market!


By Duane, founder & Head Veggie Fairy

I love when the winter months come and we have fresh, local leeks in the kitchen. My first farm encounter with leeks was on a nice fall day. I was standing in a field out at Charlie Collins’ Victory Farms in Henrico. Charlie sold his produce at in-person farmers markets — by the way, many of those are closed this time of year, but he now sells through the Seasonal Roots online farmers market, too, which is open year-round.

Anyway, back before Victory Farms began selling through Seasonal Roots, I was out there in the field looking at a fifty-foot-long row of leeks. They were at the peak of ripeness and ready for harvest. But Charlie was about to till them all under. Why? He’d learned there was no point hauling them to market – no one wanted them. A tragedy!

Guess what, they’re good for you

They looked so beautiful and smelled so fresh out in the field that I was determined to learn about these gems. I soon discovered that they’re a close relative of the simple yellow onion – but better. A single leek (about a cup) contains just 54 calories. So it makes you feel full without fattening you up.

And leeks are loaded with vitamins! One whole leek gives you at least half the recommended daily dose of vitamins A and K, plus significant amounts of compounds that help protect your vision. Click here to get all the details on the health benefits.

Easy to cook, too

There are lots of ways to put leeks to work. The first recipe I remember making with leeks was a fish dish. I grilled flounder (any fresh fish will do) with a little salt, and caramelized freshly harvested leeks. That was all it took to make a meal that I will never forget – the taste was amazing! Now I use leeks in stews, soups, omelets, and more.

We’ve pulled together a variety of leek recipes right here on Pinterest to help you give them a try. There’s something for everyone, including two potato-and-leek soup options, with and without the cream. Enjoy!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

fight hunger with local food

4 ways you can help fight hunger

Giving is always in season


By the Seasonal Roots Veggie Fairy Team

On delivery day last week, the day before Thanksgiving, one of our neighborhood Market Managers, Nickie, posted this on Facebook:
“I’m volunteering with the 25 Project to provide meals to roughly 500 homeless living in shelters and tent cities in DC and Northern Virginia tomorrow. I reached out to the good people at Seasonal Roots to see if they could send some surplus veggies my way, and boy did they deliver. Literally. All of this was waiting for me on the truck this morning. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the farmers and founders who were able to provide all this nutritious produce to those in our area who so desperately need it. Stay tuned for updates on the mass cooking project going down in my house tonight as I prepare for tomorrow!”

Our Chief Happiness Officer, Lesley, shared NIckie’s Post on our Facebook page, adding:
“We get so excited when we’re given the chance to share the love of local, especially when it’s to those in need. We are incredibly thankful for sweet souls like Nickie who help spread that love.”

Later that day, Nickie posted an update:
“Thank you again! Meals were served to 525 people yesterday. We couldn’t have done it without your extreme generosity.”

4 ways to help

From our Hub in Richmond, Sam, our Farmer Connector, regularly donates any excess produce to FeedMore’s Central Virginia Food Bank. In this season of giving, if you’re feeling led to support an organization like that, here are four different ways you can do it:

1. Just by ordering your weekly basket from your online farmers market, you’re making it possible for Seasonal Roots to donate fresh local food on behalf of all of us.
2. You can also make your own food donations.
3. You can volunteer your time and talent.
4. And you can donate money — charities can always put cash to good use!

Looking for a local charity near you where you can help feed your neighbors? FeedMore helps the hungry throughout Central Virginia, from the North Carolina border up through Richmond to the Northern Neck. Check them out — they offer an amazing array of food-related services to families in need.

If you live closer to the coast in the Hampton Roads area, the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank offers an equally impressive array of services that deserve your support.

And in Northern Virginia, the Capital Area Food Bank could use your help fighting suburban hunger.

All three of these charities are top-rated by Charity Navigator. So you can trust they’ll be good stewards of your dollars, and offer meaningful opportunities for volunteering.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

eating local - hurricanes

Eating local means eating what nature provides

The Mystery of the Missing Green Beans


By the Seasonal Roots Veggie Fairy Team

Green beans are a tradition on many a Thanksgiving table. So Sam, our Farmer Connector, always stocks our online farmers market with them for the holiday. This year, he scoured the whole region, but there was nary a green bean to be found. It was a mystery, but there’s a clue in that photo montage: One of these things is not like the other.

Mystery solved

So: The culprit? The hurricanes! All that wind and rain took them out. Fortunately, our family farmers still have plenty of local, sustainably grown produce to make your favorite holiday sides: Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, beets, chestnuts, winter squashes, apples, mushrooms, spinach and more! Eating local is still delicious, even without the green beans.

Still want those green beans?

If you just gotta have ’em though, you can always get green beans at the supermarket. But do it knowing you’re really just getting a pretty prop. Any green beans on the shelves right now have traveled a long way – guaranteed. In the process, they’ve lost most of their nutrients and flavor, and burned a big carbon footprint.

Eating locally means eating what nature provides while enjoying fresh delicious flavor, great nutrition, and a cleaner environment. All good things to be thankful for. Happy Turkey Day, everybody!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

sustainable greenhouse online farmers market

Year-round online farmers market = year-round healthy eating

As temps drop, farmers keep farming


By the Seasonal Roots Veggie Fairy Team

Thanksgiving is coming, right about the time most traditional farmers markets are closing for the winter, or scaling back. But not your year-round online farmers market! We stay open all through the winter because a little dip in the temperature gauge can’t stop our local farmers from farming.

So what’s happening on the farm?

Family farmers are still out in their fields gleaning the last of the summer and fall crops like peppers and eggplant. They’re tending to cold weather crops like beets, carrots, parsnips, and greens.

They’re putting their greenhouses to work to grow more tender produce like tomatoes and basil. Check out that photo if you need proof of the power of a greenhouse — inside one of the greenhouses on Sion House Farm in eastern Virginia, the McKenney family extends the season growing crops like local tomatoes… and for wearing shorts!

Our farmers who raise animals are busy, too. Their cows are still producing milk and their chickens are still laying eggs.

What’s up with those lighter-colored egg yolks?

Lately you may have noticed that the yolks are little more light-colored than usual. Your eggs are still as fresh as ever, and the hens are still pasture-raised. So what’s going on?

The folks at Avery’s Branch Farms explain: “At this time of year the grass quantity starts to be depleted and we start feeding them alfalfa hay. It takes a couple weeks for them to get adjusted to the hay and that causes a few lighter weeks.”

So there’s still a lot going on out on the farms. And that’s why we stay open year-round – to support our local farm families and to help you keep eating fresh nutritious local food throughout the year.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

local produce tastes better

Why fresh local produce tastes so different

Case Study: Celery


By Kristin Henderson, Chief Veggie Communicator

It’s celery season out on the Flores family’s farm on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Gerardo and his son Omar are harvesting fresh, aromatic celery bunches from their fields. Then our veggie fairies deliver it straight to you within just a couple days.

If you ever needed proof that freshly harvested local produce tastes better than the stuff you get at the grocery story (which is at least a week old), do a celery taste test.

What is celery really supposed to taste like?

Until I discovered fresh local food, I thought celery was supposed to taste like grocery store celery – bitter or, at best, blah – useful as a crunchy delivery vehicle for peanut butter, various cheeses, or hummus, but otherwise best hidden in soups, stews, or salads.

Compared to that, the first time I bit into freshly harvested celery, the taste was a revelation. It was loaded with so much zingy flavor that I ate it all by itself as a snack. When I roasted it, that peppery flavor turned sweet. And when I made cream of celery soup with it, as much as I love any kind of grass-fed creaminess, I had to admit the celery was the star of the show.

Lots of flavor, lots of nutrients

If produce is full of flavor, that’s a good indicator that it’s full of nutrients as well. Flavor and nutrients go hand in hand – the longer produce sits around after it’s been harvested, the more they both fade away. Check out how much nutritional value is lost during the week (or more!) that it takes most produce to get from the farm to the grocery store.

So when produce is bursting with flavor, it’s usually bursting with nutrients, too. In the case of celery, that includes B vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and K, plus potassium, calcium, folate, and fiber.

Why does fresh local celery taste so different?

I’ve already mentioned one of the biggest reasons: the amount of time between when it’s picked and when you eat it. Grocery stores just can’t compete with local produce that’s home-delivered within a couple days of harvest, the way Seasonal Roots’ produce is. Even grocery stores that carry local food can’t offer it to you until after it makes its way through the delivery and warehousing system… which all takes time.

But there are other reasons why our local produce tastes better and is better for you. It starts with the dirt. Our local family farmers use sustainable practices to keep their soil nutrient-rich so the produce they grow in that soil can then absorb those nutrients.

Next, because our produce doesn’t have to sit in a warehouse, our farmers can pick it at the peak of ripeness, after it has soaked up all the flavor and nutrients that it can get from Mother Nature. Produce that’s picked early for a long trip may turn the right color along the way, but it doesn’t gain any nutrients or flavor in the process.

Also, during our more direct delivery process, our local produce gets handled less. So it’s less likely to get bruised, cut, or damaged. Damage speeds up the natural deterioration that makes flavor and nutrition go bye-bye.

Gerardo and Omar’s celery comes fresh from their fields with the flavor, nutrients, and roots still attached. Eat it raw or use it to cook up something amazing! We’ve got lots of healthy, tasty celery ideas on our Pinterest celery board.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

organic sustainable local food

ORGANIC vs SUSTAINABLE vs LOCAL

Which is best?!


By the Seasonal Roots Veggie Fairy Team

We get this question pretty often: “So are your farms Certified Organic?”

When people ask that, we totally get where they’re coming from. We all just want to eat nutritious, safe, non-toxic, eco-friendly food. But who has time to research every item we buy? So the government’s “Certified Organic” label seems like a convenient shortcut to eating healthy without harming the planet.

If only it were true.

Organic vs sustainable vs local… how do you decide which is best? Here at Seasonal Roots, we’re more concerned about sustainable and local than organic, so we don’t require our local farmers to be Certified Organic.

Here are 4 reasons why.

1. “Organic” doesn’t equal “locally grown”.


In fact, it may even be grown in a foreign country and shipped to the U.S. The result? A bigger carbon footprint. That’s not eco-friendly.

There’s actually no standard definition for “local”. Our standard is within about 150 miles of our delivery areas in Virginia. So most of our local partners are in Virginia. A few are in southern Pennsylvania or Maryland or eastern North Carolina.

To maintain a healthy variety of options during the winter, we partner with sustainable farmers in Florida. We call that produce “regional” because it can get to us within a day of harvest without resorting to flying. Members who prefer to eat only what’s in season locally can opt out of our winter-time regional offerings.

2. Organic doesn’t equal nutritious, either.


The sooner produce gets to you the better. Research shows that most nutrients begin to degrade from the moment produce is harvested. Spinach, for example, loses up to 60% of its nutrients in a week, the typical age of most grocery store produce. Our local produce gets to you within just a couple days of harvest.

Also, many studies have found that fruit that’s picked closer to the peak of ripeness (rather than being picked green and ripening on the shelf or by being gassed) contains more nutrients, more vitamins and minerals, than fruit that’s picked before or after peak, whether it’s organic or not.

This is why we hustle to get your produce to you as soon as possible after harvesting, and why being local helps — it doesn’t have to travel very far. Much of the food in grocery stores has traveled thousands of miles and many days to get there, losing nutrients every hour of the way.

3. Organic is no guarantee of food safety.


That organic label can’t tell you whether the food was produced under clean and healthy conditions. Plus, Certified Organic farmers can still use herbicides and pesticides – just certified organic ones. While this changes the mix of what’s sprayed, it doesn’t make it better, and they often spray frequently as a matter of course.

Our local farmers are low- or no-spray. Many of them are multi-generational, so they care for their land, crops, and animals with the next generation in mind. They use sustainable practices like rotating their crops to avoid sucking all the nutrients out of the soil. The vast majority of our farmers don’t spray because that would jeopardize the integrity of their land. If they do spray, it’s minimal and only as required. You could call sustainable farming “old school organic”, the way it was often done before the government got in the business of regulating it.

One of our sustainable farmers has a friend who runs a Certified Organic farm not far from him. One year, our sustainable farmer sprayed his yellow squash one time all season because it was necessary. His Certified Organic friend, on the other hand, sprayed his squash on a weekly schedule using a spray approved by the USDA. Our farmer isn’t considered Certified Organic, but his weekly spraying friend is allowed to use that title.

4. The best way to know if your food is nutritious, eco-friendly, and safe is to know your farmer.


That’s not possible for most of us as individuals. But when we come together as a group like Seasonal Roots, that’s exactly what we do. We know our farmers. We talk with them, visit their farms, and develop relationships with them. We share their stories with you so you can know them too, even if you don’t have time to go visit them yourself. It’s not quite as easy as the “Certified Organic” shortcut, but it’s a lot easier than trying to do it all by yourself.

We support our local farmers because we know and trust them and their practices. They produce safe food for their families, our families. and your families. So whether you just celebrated Halloween or simply enjoy the season’s produce, sustainably grown local food (like the pumpkins pictured here) is better for you and better for the planet!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS


Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, eggs, grass-fed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

seasonal eating fall foods healthy eating

Seasonal eating: 5 healthy tips to get ready for fall foods

Mother Nature’s gift gives us what we need when we need it

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

Do you clean out your closets in the spring, enjoy more outdoor activities in the summer, and crave all things warm and cozy in the fall and winter? Your eating habits probably follow the same cycle. Science tells us this is natural, and nature supplies food perfectly designed to give our bodies what they need to stay healthy during each season. Mother Nature’s fall bounty is like a bouquet of good health — a gift for our bodies.

The foods we need change with the seasons

Seasonal eating means eating what grows naturally in each season. Now that it’s fall, you’ve probably noticed all the apples that our friends at Saunders Brothers are harvesting these days. Apples are high in fiber and pectin that help cleanse the intestines and support the digestion of fats.

That’s important, because with the onset of winter our bodies need more fats and protein from meats, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, root vegetables, and winter squashes. Winter’s cold, dry weather can dry us out and foods that are rich in protein and fat restore moisture to our bodies and make us less susceptible to colds and flu.

In the spring, Mother Nature provides bitter greens like arugula to help clean out our livers. We need to detoxify after processing all those fats and heavier foods that we ate all winter.

Next up: summer. Since we’re outside more in the summer, and more active, we need the extra energy we get from carbohydrates and sugars in warm weather fruits like peaches and strawberries. Produce like cucumbers and watermelon help us hydrate, more, too.

Get ready for fall foods: 5 healthy tips

Now it’s fall, and winter will soon be upon us. So here are 5 healthy steps you can take to make it easy to cook and eat fresh, local fall foods, the way nature intended.

1. In the winter we eat less cold, raw food and more hot, cooked food. Clean your oven so you can start the season without setting off your smoke detectors.

2. Start eating fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamins A and C. They boost your immune system so it’s good and strong for fighting off the germ attacks of cold and flu season. Add greens like kale and collards to smoothies, soups, and pasta dishes. Other A and C rock stars of our fall-season local produce include apples, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, hard winter squashes, celery, celeriac, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Many of these contain more vitamin C than oranges!

3. You’ll get some of the fat your body needs when you snack on nuts and seeds, which contain healthy fats. Cook with healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil. Don’t throw away those seeds you scoop out of butternut and acorn squashes! Toss them in olive oil (don’t waste time picking out those strands that come with them, the strands will shrivel in the heat), spread them on a baking sheet loosely covered with foil, then roast them at about 400 degrees until they start to pop. (The foil keeps them from flying around inside your oven.) Stir them and keep an eye on them. Once they’re brown, take them out, sprinkle with salt, and start snacking.

4. Eat whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley, and whole wheat breads. Their dietary fiber aids healthy digestion. Whole grains are also full of iron for healthy blood, antioxidants to keep your cells healthy, and B vitamins to give you energy.

5. Make a homemade, nutritious stock or broth to use in soups, stews, and sauces. Here’s how to make bone broth, which is both immune boosting and good for bone and joint health. And here’s how to make a healthy vegan broth.

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

slow cooker

Too busy to cook? Try a slow cooker!

Here’s how you can cook fresh local food from scratch while you do something else

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

Too much fresh local food and not enough time to cook it? Try using a slow cooker! It gives you control and convenience – safely. Throw in the ingredients, set the heat and cooking time, then walk away and forget about it for hours… without burning down the house.

When you come back at the end of a busy day or after a good night’s sleep, a complete meal is waiting for you. Done right, it’s like the veggie fairies came in and worked their magic while you weren’t looking.

How to pick a good slow cooker

Depending on the recipe, you can fill a slow cooker and hit start in about five minutes, just enough time to listen to this fun interview with Top Chef judge Hugh Acheson while you chop and toss in fresh local ingredients. He’s got a new slow cooker cookbook and a some great advice.

Slow cookers are relatively inexpensive, and paying more doesn’t necessarily get you a better piece of gear. All you need it to do is cook slowly and steadily and keep the food warm when it’s done. Most new slow cookers these days are designed to automatically switch to a warm setting after they’re done cooking, which will keep the food at a safe temperature until you’re ready to eat.

When you’re picking one out, the most important part to consider is the insert pot. A heavy, ceramic insert is best for even heat distribution. Other than that, just pick one with a control panel that’s simple and easy to use.

While a lot of bells and whistles aren’t needed, a programmable option may be a useful convenience. It lets your meal start cooking at a predetermined start time for a predetermined length of time.

Planning ahead makes it even more convenient

If you want to start your slow cooker first thing in the morning and your mornings are pretty crazy, just start the night before.

Chop up the fresh local ingredients, measure out the dry ingredients, and prepare any sauce, putting each group of ingredients in its own container. Don’t refrigerate them in the slow cooker’s insert pot. If the insert is chilled, it will take too long to heat up. That will lengthen cooking time, reduce the cooking temperature, and could make your food unsafe.

So in the morning, add ingredients to the cooker according to the recipe. Reheat any sauce to a simmer before you add it to the mix.

When you set the heat level, here’s a general rule of thumb: Cooking on the low setting (170 degrees for most models) takes about twice as long as cooking on high (usually 280 degrees).

If you won’t be home close to the end of the cooking time, this is when it’s good to have a slow cooker that will automatically switch to the warm setting when the cooking is done.

7 easy ways to boost slow cooker flavor

Slow cookers are admittedly a bit glamour-challenged, mostly because they’ve got a reputation for producing pots of bland mush. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t need help from a Top Chef to make sure your slow cooker meals are satisfyingly delicious.

1. Use fresh ingredients, never frozen. If you want to include some of your fresh local produce that you preserved in the freezer, let it defrost before adding it. That way it won’t interfere with the slow cooker’s ability to get all the ingredients hot enough to kill any harmful bacteria that might thrive if the temp is too low.

2. If you’re cooking meat, choose the right cut. Fatty, tougher meats like chuck roasts, short ribs, pork shoulders, and lamb shanks will melt in your mouth after all those hours in the moist, low heat of a slow cooker. Leaner cuts like tenderloin tend to dry out. Same with chicken — dark meat thighs and drumsticks will remain juicier than white meat breasts.

3. If you have a little extra time, brown meat before you add it to the cooker. For a thicker sauce, dredge it in flour before browning. Then use some of the liquid called for in the recipe to scrape up and pour all the savory, brown, caramelized bits from the pan into the cooker. You’ll get a richer flavor that you can’t get from slow-cooking alone.

4. One more bit of meat advice: Trim the fat and skin the chicken to avoid an oily, greasy cooking liquid. By limiting the excess fat, you’ll wind up with delectably silky sauces and gravies.

5. For even cooking, cut everything into uniform-size pieces. Place firm, slow-cooking root vegetables like potatoes and carrots at the bottom and pile more tender veggies and any meat on top.

6. Definitely use spices! But watch the wine. The slow cooker is sealed so the alcohol can’t escape and evaporate like it would from a normal pot. A splash goes a long way.

7. Don’t overfill. The insert pot should be only one-half to two-thirds full, or whatever your cooker’s owner’s manual recommends. It’s okay to slow cook roasts and whole chickens, but make sure the lid still fits snugly.

8. Never lift the lid while it’s cooking — at least not until 30 to 45 minutes before it switches to low to check for doneness. Each peek lets heat escape and adds 15 minutes to the cooking time. Usually there’s no need to stir, either.

9. Add dairy last. Sour cream, milk, and yogurt tend to break down in the slow cooker, so stir them in during the last 15 minutes of cooking.

10. At the end of simmering, a sprinkle of fresh herbs or squeeze of lemon juice brightens flavors and cuts through all those rich slow cooker flavors. You can also finish off with hot sauce, citrus zest, grated Parmesan, good-quality olive oil, or even sauteed garlic.

Cooking from scratch with fresh local food ends in a meal that’s full of more flavor and nutrients than you get from processed foods out a box, bag, or can. And with a slow cooker, it’s almost as easy. Thanks to slow cookers, you can be busy and still enjoy healthy eating!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.

local gluten free bakery

Meet AnnaB’s: Local gluten free!

FOOD ARTISAN SPOTLIGHT: A local gluten free bakery

– By the Veggie Fairy Team

We’re excited to welcome AnnaB’s Gluten Free Bakery to our year-round online farmers market! Together we’re helping more people to eat better, live better with delicious, nutritious local gluten free baked goods.

Gluten free food is trendy these days, but for people suffering from Celiac disease, going gluten free isn’t a choice – it’s a life-changing requirement.

What’s up with gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For Celiacs, it triggers an immune response in the small intestine that eventually damages the lining and prevents absorption of certain nutrients. In children, that can affect growth and development in addition to other really miserable symptoms. (Learn more about celiac disease.)

Kimi and Angela, the two sisters behind AnnaB’s Gluten Free Bakery, are the mom and aunt of a Celiac. When eating out they, too, have wondered, “Is this really gluten free?” They cite hidden wheat thickeners as just one of the lurking dangers. “Eating out is hard,” they say. “Actually, eating in general can be hard!” But not with their bakery!

Enter AnnaB’s

The sisters started their gluten free bakery in Mechanicsville, Va. There, the mixers are lined up in the kitchen like race cars at the starting line, as if they’re waiting for someone to announce, “Bakers! Start your mixers!” And the kitchen is busy all week, while the store is open on Saturdays from 8:00am to 2:00pm.

It’s a family business. “Our oldest daughters help bake and work in the kitchen while our younger kids help run the counter at the bakery on the weekends,” they report. “Even our 83-year-old father fixes any equipment that may break.”

Their stand on gluten is clear: “We don’t allow gluten in our kitchen at all, anytime, for any reason.” They’re also a peanut free facility. However, they understand that most Celiacs have other allergies as well, so they also clearly state they are NOT free of dairy, eggs, corn, chocolate, and tree nuts. Knowledge is power, as they well know.

Take a tour!

Get to know AnnaB’s, including where and when to visit the bakery. In the meantime, enjoy this photo tour. Thanks to Aly M for taking the pix during a recent yummy visit!

Bakers! Start your mixers!

Bakers! Start your mixers!

The gluten free and peanut free kitchen at Anna B's in Mechanicsville, Va.

The gluten free and peanut free kitchen at AnnaB’s in Mechanicsville, Va.

If the kids eat it, you know gluten free doesn't equal flavor free!

If the kids eat it, you know gluten free doesn’t equal flavor free!

It's a family business serving local families.

It’s a family business serving local families.

Bagels -- one of the many Anna B's baked goods that you'll find at our Seasonal Roots online farmers market!

Bagels — one of the many AnnaB’s baked goods that you’ll find at our Seasonal Roots online farmers market!

Dinner rolls? Yep, we've got those too.

Dinner rolls? Yep, we’ve got those too.

Multigrain bread, and white, too.

Multigrain bread, and white, too.

Even cookies and more!

Even cookies and more!

ABOUT SEASONAL ROOTS

Since 2011, Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market has connected Virginia families with local family farmers who use sustainable, humane practices. Our veggie fairies – mostly moms who believe in living better through scrumptious, healthy eating, being kind to animals, protecting the environment, and spreading joy – home-deliver freshly harvested produce, pastured eggs, grassfed dairy and meat, plus artisan fare. We empower our members to eat better and live better with more nutritious, flavorful food that’s good for us and good for the planet. More info at seasonalroots.com.