Foxdale Village resident Dorothy Cecil said she’s been going to a farmers market on Locust Street “since it started.”
She also gets produce at the Boalsburg Market in the winter.
“It’s a healthy choice,” she said, “and it’s fun to see the people. I know a lot of the farmers.”
That healthy choice is a trend as seniors look at diet as a tool to healthier, and longer, living.
“I think of fresh fruits and vegetables as the perfect diet prescription for any chronic condition,” said Beverly Garden, consultant dietitian for Centre Crest.
“Older, active adults need fewer foods with ‘empty’ calories and more foods with antioxidants, which are good for heart health, and fight inflammation,” said Garden, who recommends the local farmers markets as one way of securing fresh, quality fruits and vegetables.
The connection between health and food as medicine was discussed by Daphne Miller, associate professor in the department of family medicine at the University of California, San Francisco in her keynote address at the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture conference held at Penn State in February.
Miller wrote the book “Farmocology: What Innovative Family Farming Can Teach Us About Health and Healing.” The book investigates the relationship between the body and the soil.
By venturing out of her clinic and spending time on seven family farms, Miller said, she learned about many aspects of farming — from seed choice to soil management — and the direct and powerful effect this has on health.
“I began to see patterns in my lab and in pictures of skin and soil,” Miller said.
She used the example of a picture of a dissection of several layers of soil, and another picture of several layers of skin and tissue, which confirm the similarity — down to the “hairs,” or “grass” on the top.
“It turns out that the ideal pH in soil is the same for our bodies,” Miller said.
“And the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in soils and our bodies are similar — we are soil.”
Miller said she began to see that the “depletion” her patients sometimes experienced was similar to depletion in the soil. And the conventional treatment was similar, too. When tested, both soil and people are “prescribed” replacements — more minerals, etc. — more pharmacology for people, more farmocology for soil.
The idea of farming “in the image of nature,” began to emerge for Miller as a more sustainable model for tending the soil and tending to her patients.
Cindy Stahlman, supervisor of the Centre Region Senior Center in State College, said coupons for farmers markets are available for residents 60 and older, based on income.
Information about the coupons is available at the county Area Agency on Aging office in Bellefonte.
Seniors have the option to have a nutritious meal at 11:30 a.m., Monday through Friday at the senior center, 131 S. Frasier St., State College.
“On Fridays, those people who are able can easily walk to the farmer’s market which is held at the borough building on Allen Street,” she said.
Many growers in the county realize that the demand for healthy food is on the rise.
“It’s all about health and it’s all about flavor,” said Jenne Senator, of Valley Grassfed farm in Spring Mills. “Our motto is ‘Beef ... the way it’s meant to be’ and that’s grass fed. Beef from animals solely pastured and fed hay have a perfect ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, making the fats actually good for you. And the taste is unbeatable.”
Nutritionists call omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids “essential” fats because the human body needs them for many functions, from building healthy cells to maintaining brain and nerve function. Our bodies can’t produce them. The only source is food.
Growing evidence shows that polyunsaturated fats also help to lower the risk of heart disease.
Some studies suggest these fats may also protect against Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related brain decline.
Although most omegas come from plant sources, the grass-fed beef provides another option for meat lovers.
And what about sweets? Shawnee Kelly, instructor in the department of nutritional sciences at Penn State and a consultant for Brookline Village in State College, said baked goods represent “empty calories” that older people really need to limit.
“Have ‘sweet’ vegetables — pepper strips and fruits — cut up with peanut butter, or avocado ready to grab, instead of a doughnut,” Kelly said. “It will satisfy and provide fiber and nutrition.”
She also is a proponent of farmers markets because the fresh fruits and vegetables offer the best taste.
Betsy Green, owner of Egg Hill Gardens in Spring Mills, sells a variety of locally made, preserved items at the winter Friday Farmers Market in the State College borough building. She said her customers “cannot wait for the fresh greens — kale, spinach, beautiful swiss chard.”
Green provides recipe sheets, nutrition information and anecdotal tips about preparing the fresh produce.
Dark green, leafy vegetables are, calorie for calorie, probably the most concentrated source of nutrition of any food, she said. They are a rich source of minerals (including iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium) and vitamins, including K, C, E and many of the B vitamins, according to Laura Dobson, health and food writer for About.com.
Barry Moser, of Moser’s Garden Produce, said, “people love the freshness — the cucumbers, the zucchini, the berries — everything is just-picked.”
Freshness is part of the health package. Fruits and vegetables begin losing vital nutrients and vitamins as soon as they’re picked.
Some larger grocery stores have the problem of premature picking, in order to have time for shipping. If produce is picked prematurely, its vitamin and nutrient potential is never reached. This process of allowing produce to ripen naturally increases the plant’s amount of phytonutrients, Moser said.
Dave Lowenstein, owner of Red Hawk Premium Peppers in Reedsville, said, “The reason that I grow my own peppers is that I don’t want to eat chemicals, and I don’t want my customers to eat chemicals.”
Lowenstein creates a variety of condiments and rubs, such as fiery pineapple spread and habanero mustard. He said, “hot peppers have more vitamin C than an orange.”
Lowenstein contends that “people are proud of local products,” which may be a benefit, beyond health, to customers as well.