Local Strawberry Farms Combine Nutrition, Exercise

strawberries, nutrition, Registered DietitianWith rows of red strawberries ready to be picked, local farms offer a sweet opportunity to combine a little exercise and healthy eating.

Strawberries contain powerful nutrients. Each bite boasts vitamin C, folate, fiber and potassium. One cup of these beauties has only 50 calories and gives your body 160 percent of the recommended Daily Value of vitamin C. Vitamin C not only helps your body’s immune system, but also the absorption of iron from plant-based foods and the ability to make collagen for healing wounds.

Eating strawberries may also have other health benefits. Strawberries are loaded with anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing them from causing cellular damage that can lead to cancer and other health conditions, according to the National Cancer Institute. Although research has shown that people who eat more vegetables and fruits have lower risks of several diseases,  it is not clear whether this is related to antioxidants in vegetables and fruits.

Nutrition aside, fresh strawberries are downright delicious. Whether you want to pick your own, find organic varieties or grab a basket that’s already filled and ready to take home, strawberry farms and local markets make it easy to put these flavorful berries on your menu in May.

Of course, walking the fields and repeatedly reaching down to pick berries is a wonderful way to work your muscles. If you’re not sure where to find a local farm, check out this database of farms at VirginiaGrown.com. Virginia is home to more than 250 strawberry growers. Many farms also use Facebook to post updates on when and where to pick their best strawberries.

Follow these tips to enjoy local strawberries at home:

  • Strawberries do not ripen after they’re harvested. If you go strawberry picking, be sure to select berries that are red and without green or white areas. Deep red berries that are soft and dull-looking may be overripe.
  • Gently snap the stem from the plant.
  • Store your strawberries in the fridge between 32 and 36 F. Keep the humidity level high by keeping your berries in a partially opened plastic bag. Strawberries can last up to a week in the fridge, but may need to be eaten sooner if they were very ripe when picked.
  • Wash the strawberries right before you eat or preserve them. Rinse under cold running water, drain and pat dry. You can gently rub the berries as you rinse them. Don’t use standing water to clean them because it can spread contamination. Do not use soap because strawberries can absorb the detergent.
  • If you have too many berries to eat, try freezing them. You can freeze them whole, sliced, crushed or pureed. When you serve frozen berries, eat them before they defrost completely or they can become mushy.

Remember, don’t wait too long during the month of May to get your fresh, local berries. Strawberry season is relatively brief and the peak can vary by region, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

If you’re looking for a strawberry festival, more than a dozen are planned for this month in Virginia. At least two include South Hampton Roads: