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Produce Lady shows how to make the most of the best local produce

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
KANNAPOLIS ó While many people want to buy and prepare local produce, not everyone knows how.
Even some farmers aren’t sure how to cook the veggies they grow and sell.
Now, farmers and consumers alike can turn to the Produce Lady for tips and recipes.
Brenda Sutton, director for Cooperative Extension in Rockingham County, visited North Carolina farmers markets last year.
More than once, when she asked farmers for a good way to prepare the produce at their booths, she heard, “I don’t know, I just grow it.”
Sutton and her colleague at the N.C. Research Campus, Leah Chester-Davis, had an idea: Help farmers sell their produce by teaching them, and consumers, how to prepare easy recipes featuring fresh vegetables and other local products.
And the Produce Lady was born.
“Brenda lights up when she talks about local foods,” said Chester-Davis, who works for N.C. State University’s Extension Service in Kannapolis. “I knew she was the perfect person to get on video to educate farmers and consumers.”
Sutton and Chester-Davis, the communications director for N.C. State’s Program for Value-Added & Alternative Agriculture, have completed 12 videos, which are available online. They also appear together at farmers markets around the state.
Thursday in downtown Kannapolis, Sutton used local onions, broccoli and eggs to make a frittata at the Research Campus Farmers Market. She threw in some fresh rosemary from a nearby booth run by the Farmer’s Daughter.
The recipe is so easy, Sutton said, even the “cooking-challenged” can prepare it.
Sutton does cooking demonstrations, hands out recipes and gives fresh produce safety advice.
She also encourages people to try something new.
“A lot of people don’t know but one way to cook green beans, or they think okra must be slimy,” she said. “The Produce Lady just delights in telling them healthy ways to prepare those green beans, and telling them to roast that okra for a crispy treat, not a slimy mess.”
Sutton and Chester-Davis both grew up on farms. They want their program to strengthen markets and encourage people across the state to join the local foods movement.
The program is funded with a grant from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
People are healthier if they eat at home, and eating locally can save money, Sutton said.
“There’s a whole generation of people who don’t have a whole lot of experience preparing food from scratch,” she said. “They want to do it, they just don’t know how.”
Many of Sutton’s recipes are her own creations, developed during a lifetime of growing and cooking vegetables.
She grew up on a family farm in Wake County and worked as a family and consumer sciences agent, teaching people to grow, prepare and preserve their own food.
Sutton grows and sells shiittake mushrooms and blueberries, giving her first-hand experience as a vendor.
The Produce Lady videos are available on YouTube and at www.theproducelady.org.
Videos include blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupe, corn, eggplant, green beans, greens, okra, peppers, Southern peas, squash and strawberries. Upcoming videos will feature North Carolina goat cheese, grass-fed beef and seafood.The Produce Lady also appears on Almanac Gardener on UNC-TV. Sutton even blogs twice a month on her Web site, offering “timely, no-nonsense tips you can use in the kitchen.”
Sutton returns to the Research Campus Farmers Market July 16 and Sept 17. The Salisbury market isn’t on her schedule yet, but she said she would welcome an invitation.
 
 

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