Asparagus, dandelion greens, rhubarb. It's late April and this is what's in season near me. How do I know this?
As is increasingly the case, there is an app for that. No, it's not Siri. It's called NRDC Eat Local and after downloading it for free, in just a few clicks I got my answer.
Once it's on your iPhone (sorry, Android), open it and choose the "In Season" tab at the bottom, select your state and the season (which mine did automatically after I answered the question about location) and choose what food category you are interested in.
I selected late April, New York, and "All" food categories, so up they all popped, including Eastern Oysters, which the app tells me are the most popular or "widely consumed" oysters in America.
It may not be the bounty one finds at farmers markets later in the summer or fall, but it got me excited about dinner. The app provides helpful info about each produce item, including some nutritional details as well as tips on storage, prep and cooking. And most produce come with links to some pretty terrific-sounding recipes, all of which are housed on the Smarter Living section of NRDC.org. The one I found on the bottom of the Asparagus page -- that calls for mixing together chopped asparagus, mango and shitake mushrooms and rolling the mixture all up in rice paper -- has my mouth watering.
To find where I could buy regionally grown asparagus, I clicked on the Farmers Market icon in the lower left corner of the app and plugged in my work ZIP code so I could run out at lunch time and get what I needed for dinner. Full disclosure, Paul McRandle and I worked together with a developer, Scott Santulli, to create this App for NRDC. It's been our own experience that choosing produce that is grown locally, and picked at the peak of freshness, matters a lot in terms of better taste and nutritional value. In fact, according to Mark Izeman, the director of NRDC's Urban Program, New York, "Studies have shown that produce loses nutrients each day after it has been harvested and after three days it has lost 40 percent of its nutritional value."
Shopping at farmer's markets, Izeman adds, supports small and mid-sized farms in the region, which when compared to the large industrial farm from which most big chain supermarkets get their produce, are generally using more sustainable, "less intensive" farming practices. New York State has "the fourth-highest number of organic farms in the nation, more than 825," Izeman says, adding that farmers using organic and sustainable methods strive to retain top soil (a bigger global problem that you might expect); preserve biodiversity; and reduce contaminated runoff into waterways.
I've got yet another reason for buying my produce at the farmers market. Meals prepared at home using fresh seasonal and local ingredients are not just better for your health, but better for your wallet. You'll always pay more for take-out, and that goes for lunch as well as dinner.
The app lists more than 5,200 farmers markets and features 64 produce items, including seafood, heirloom turkeys and more. There are more than 100 links to recipes. So if you love fresh food and are curious about what's freshest when and where, check out this new app -- NRDC Eat Local -- and tell us what you think. And more importantly, help us make it better. Use the "Submit Market" button on the app to help us fill in gaps in our content.
Now grab a a couple bags and head out to the nearest farmers market and pick up something fresh for lunch -- and dinner.
Follow Wendy Gordon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/wendyrgordon