Farmers market food demonstrations offer people chance to try new fruits, vegetables

Linda Benedict, Guarino, Annrose M.  |  11/26/2008 1:39:00 AM

table

Annrose M. Guarino

Eating fruits and vegetables (5-13 servings or 2½ - 6½ cups per day based on calorie needs) is associated with a reduced risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, with a reduced risk of cancers (oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, stomach and colon-rectal) and with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

To encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables, LSU AgCenter nutrition specialists offered food demonstrations and tastings at a series of farmers markets at Destrehan, La., in 2007 and Denham Springs, La., in 2008. The series was called Taste of the Season Kitchen on Wheels Food Demonstrations. Food dishes were prepared on site in the AgCenter’s mobile kitchen unit, and shoppers sampled fruits and vegetables, received take-home nutrient analyzed recipes and were asked to participate in an evaluation survey.

Tasting improves acceptance
Liking a specific food is strongly associated with exposure and availability of that food. To change unhealthy behavior, public health professionals seek prevention strategies that encourage healthy habits. To increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, research recommends offering repeated exposures to these foods because when unfamiliar food is available for tasting, preference for that food increases.

Farmers’ markets and farm or fruit stands
People are rediscovering the benefits of local food. Locally grown produce is fresher, tastier and more nutritious. It is also good for the local economy. In a farmers’ market, groups of growers sell their products once or twice a week at a designated public place like a park or parking lot. A farm or fruit stand is a place where a single farm sells its produce, either from the back of a truck or from a roadside stand. Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry indi vegetables cates that more than 24 farmers markets operate in Louisiana, and most accept vouchers from USDA’s WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Evaluating food tastings
 
To increase acceptance and consumption of health-promoting foods, the AgCenter researchers used a Rapid Market Assessment (RMA) "dot" survey during monthly farmers markets food demonstrations and tastings. Dot surveys are quick and easy and increase survey participation. Adult consumers indicate their responses using colorful, round, self-stick labels or dots.

Mobile kitchen equipment and nutrition expertise and guidance are provided to the market. Local chefs or trained volunteers prepare simple seasonal recipes for tasting and provide copies of these recipes to the participants. Consumers are invited to answer four questions written on a poster with the answers defined in a scale across the bottom on their tasting experience. The questions asked were these:

  • Did you sample (taste) today’s Taste of the Season recipe? 
  • Did you receive a copy of the recipe? 
  • Will you purchase any fresh produce today? 
  • Will you purchase any of the recipe ingredients today?

 Results
In 2007, researchers conducted the survey at the German Coast farmers market at Destrehan on nine separate dates. Surveys included recipes on preparing such vegetables as turnips, cabbage, squash, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, okra, pumpkin and broccoli. See Table 1.

Participants’ comments included: "I never tried it before today." "I can’t believe my child is eating it." "I never thought of doing this with that vegetable." "What is this vegetable?" "What does it taste like?"
 
Eating patterns change slowly in response to new dietary or medical messages, changing tastes and preferences, and availability of new food products. Food tasting is an opportunity for consumers to experiment with a new flavor before making a financial commitment to purchase a food.

Annrose M. Guarino, Associate Professor, Nutrition, Food and Health, LSU AgCenter School of Human Ecology, Baton Rouge, La.

(This article was published in the fall 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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