Local Gardens Provide Fresh Ingredients


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One of the benefits of local produce is that the buyer knows how long it’s been in a warehouse or on a shelf, and that’s not long. Buying local tends to be a bit cheaper, too, and helps the local economy.

That’s the advice of Jackson York, who follows his own advice as executive chef at Edom Bakery and Grill. Jackson finishes his term as president of the Texas Chefs Association in August.

“Nutritionally, when you buy farm-to-table from local farmers and you cook it properly then you know you’re not throwing out the nutrition,” he said. “You’re keeping the color, keeping the nutritional value. Frozen still has nutritional value and a little bit of color, but you are going to lose that color when you cook it. With fresh, you don’t lose in presentation or nutrients.

“Most restaurants do the fresh,” he said. “The chain is to serve fresh whenever possible, frozen next, and hopefully you don’t even bring canned into the restaurants. You can tell who does that because with canned you get that mushiness and lack of anything as far as mouth feel goes.”

What’s available locally right now?

“I just got letter from a third-grade teacher at South Athens Elementary School who coordinates a garden project maintained and harvested by students. They have potatoes; onions; cabbages; Brussels sprouts; pinto beans; red, green, and yellow bell peppers; early girl tomatoes; radishes; Kentucky wonder beans; and so that gives you an idea,” he said. “Along with that I’ve got access to Mr. Ben Wheeler’s famous Saxton tomatoes and I’ve got zucchini and yellow squash also available to me.”

Childhood obesity is a hot topic these days.

“More and more schools with the help of local farmers are starting to put in their local gardens,” he said. “In the next couple of years, even more will do so.”

Seasonal availability is one of the things Jackson likes about East Texas, with much of his produce coming from local farmers in Ben Wheeler, Brownsboro, Canton, Chandler, Van, and the general area.

“As soon as the first of May rolls around, I start getting bushels of produce in my hands from local people, and that lasts pretty much through August.”

Jackson said he is amazed how many people have vegetable gardens, even if they are just small patches.

People don’t have to grow their own gardens, though, to benefit from local produce.

“Go to farmers’ markets,” Jackson said. “More are sprouting up. These little farmers’ markets are conversation starters, too; even the little trucks with five or six items on the sides of the roads with melons, tomatoes, and onions.”

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