OUTSTANDING IN THE FIELD: Know your fruits & veggies — Be COOL and eat fresh

Margo Sue Bittner

The phone rang at the farm the other day. The caller wanted to know what the hours were for the U-pick cherry orchard. My husband explained cherries would start to ripen around July 4th. The caller was flummoxed. “But there are cherries in the grocery store right now!”

Between cold storages and imports, most of the fruits we considered to be seasonal are now available year-round. How is a consumer to know about the fruit or vegetables being purchased?

There are two important factors: COOL and a little research.

COOL stands for Country Of Origin Labeling. There should be a label or sign telling you where the vegetable or fruit came from. Most often it is the country or the state where it was picked.

To research what is available when, you can check out Eat Fresh WNY’s website: www.eatfreshwny.com .

In Niagara County, various crops ripen in May and continue through October. Some of these crops can be stored in controlled atmosphere and brought out year-round. Others are processed — think canned or frozen — and enjoyed later. There is, of course, nothing like buying a fresh fruit or vegetable and enjoying it right away.

Here, I will highlight a few — and just a few — of the products that are picked during the summer months. I hope seeing this list encourages you to visit

your local farm stand or farmers’ market and see what else is available. Oh, and when at the grocery store, be cool and check out the COOL.

May — Look for asparagus, rhubarb and the beginnings of lettuce and other leafy greens.

June — In Niagara County we think about June as strawberry month. But don’'t forget about beans and peas.

July — Fruit starts in earnest in July. Early July is sweet cherries, with tart or sour cherries to follow. Blueberries ripen at the end of the month. Fresh cauliflower, cucumbers and sweet corn are also available.

August — This is the time to bite into that fresh peach and let the juice drip down your chin. Pears are ripening. Tomatoes and peppers are also fresh. A few early apples are ready.

September — Apples ripen, with a different variety, it seems, almost every week. Carrots, winter squash and potatoes are available, along with raspberries.

October — Pumpkins are turning orange. Grapes are picked for fresh eating and to be pressed into wine. Cabbage is ready.

Depending on the weather, some of the crops may ripen a bit earlier or a bit later. Farmers are fond of saying that we partner with Mother Nature, so some of what we do depends on her.

If I listed every product grown in Western New York, this could go on for pages. I hope this snapshot inspires you to see what else is local and be COOL.

Margo Sue Bittner of Appleton, a.k.a. Aggie Culture, has been involved in Niagara County agriculture for 40 years. She’s had experience in dairy farming, fruit production and wine agri-tourism. Ask her any question about local agriculture and if she doesn’t know the answer herself, she knows who to get it from.