Ask A Farmer: Tampa Bay Summer Produce Guide

April 3, 2013 9:00 AM

Credit: Amanda Mole

Summer is here, and with it comes truckloads of sweet corn-on-the-cob, softball-sized citrus fruits, and an aromatic rainbow of healthful fruits and veggies. Deborah Armstrong, a local organic farmer for Farm Fresh Produce, gives advice for picking summer produce in Tampa Bay.

Deborah Armstrong
Farm Fresh Produce
22402 Catfish Lake Road
Land O’ Lakes, FL 34639
(813) 431-2156

The mission of Farm Fresh Produce, formerly known as 5 Kids Organic Farm and Produce, is to provide healthful food at a fraction of the cost. This locally owned and operated farm offers not only fresh produce, but also plants and flowers, fresh spice plants such as basil, non-GMO plant seeds, boiled peanuts and more.

 Ask A Farmer: Tampa Bay Summer Produce Guide

Produce from Farm Fresh Produce (Credit, Amanda Mole)

1. Buy local

Buying local has several distinct advantages. First of all, you are supporting your local economy and helping small farmers with your purchase, as opposed to supporting corporate farms which already receive millions in federal and state subsidies. Secondly, buying conventional or even organic produce from a small farm is often cheaper than purchasing it at a supermarket. Farm Fresh Produce has a regular core of returning customers who are pleased with the affordable prices. “I grow for my family and for my customers,” Armstrong said. “Even if the weather changes, I don’t raise prices too much.” Furthermore, the food just tastes better. Food grown for supermarkets include GMO produce or “hot house” produce. These farming practices can do more to make the fruits and vegetables look prettier faster, since they are often picked before they are ripened so they will survive long road trips across the country. However, picking produce before it is ripe leaves it with a bland taste and diminished nutritional benefits. Small farms will often pick their fruits and vegetables either the night before or the same morning, so you are getting ripe, flavorful food rich in nutrition and antioxidants. “I just picked these strawberries this morning,” Armstrong said with a smile, pointing to a pile of crimson, fragrant strawberries.

 Ask A Farmer: Tampa Bay Summer Produce Guide

Get the best of what’s in season (Credit, Amanda Mole)

2. Buy in-season fruits and vegetables

Even though you can get pretty much any produce you want year-round, buying in-season produce is best. “In-season fruits and vegetables get cheaper as the season progresses,” Armstrong explained. Other produce that is not in season is either driven across the country or flown in from other parts of the world, which means both higher prices and lower nutrition. Produce that is in season in Florida includes corn, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, beets, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, mustard and collard greens, onions, strawberries and citrus fruits.

Related: Best Year Round Fresh Farmer’s Markets In Tampa Bay

 Ask A Farmer: Tampa Bay Summer Produce Guide

Ensure you’re getting only the best (Credit, Amanda Mole)

3. See if your supermarket’s produce passes the “GMO test”

“Up to 20 percent of produce in major supermarkets is GMO,” Armstrong said. Does your supermarket’s produce pass the test? There is an easy way to find out. “Cut open a tomato and throw the seeds on the ground, and throw some dirt over them,” she suggested. “The plants should start to grow in a few days. If they don’t, they probably came from GMO. GMO fruits and vegetables are sterile.”

4. Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the produce selection. Some farmers’ markets claim to sell local produce, but in reality they are using the same produce as the supermarkets. The farmer should be able to tell you about the farm, how the produce is grown and answer any questions about food they provide that may not be grown on their farm. You might even learn something new. “Strawberries and cabbage, and other produce grown in the winter, won’t be as sweet this year,” Armstrong explained. “The cold is what brings out the sweet flavor. Since we had such a mild winter, they won’t be as sweet.”

5. Come early for the best selection.

Usually, small farmers’ markets has only a certain amount of ripe, freshly harvested vegetables to sell each day. The earlier you get there, the better selection you will have. Additionally, you will avoid the risk of the market running out of a certain fruit or vegetable you may have wanted. 

Related: BBQ For Vegetarians: Tasty Grilling Recipes 

Amanda Mole has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil and cooking since she was tall enough to reach the stove. She believes that food provides more than just vital nutrients: it is an irreplaceable part of countless cultural and social activities. As a Tampa Bay resident for the past 21 years, she is well acquainted with the incredibly diverse range of restaurants, bars, and food festivals that the area has to offer. Her work can be found at