Sarah Hovinga

Lost at the Grocery Store!

If you’re like me and love shopping for food, the western grocery store can be both an exhilarating and overwhelming experience, especially in the world we live in now! Colorful fruits and vegetables overflow bins in the produce section, visually boasting about the bounty that comes from the land.

Your mind can journey to creative places and imagine the next meals you will make for yourself, friends, and family. New and interesting products peak our interest and help us reinvent classic recipes, like something you might see on a popular cooking show.

The grocery store can also be a very confusing place. Colorful packaging and marketing slogans line the aisles and entice our eyes. Labels stating commodities are “natural”, “organic”, or “low-fat” are abundant. While everyone has the best intentions for how they feed themselves and their families, how is the average person supposed to know what type of food to buy, what to look for, or even when to buy it? My thinking? Who better to ask than an agricultural expert? For this blog, I tapped a few friends on the shoulder to ask their thoughts about what they look for when it comes to food.

If you were to ask Shaun Ramirez, a Food Safety Coordinator and former melon grower for his opinion, he would say that his favorite fruit is a watermelon. He loves the taste and texture of the fruit and recommends buying it in the grocery store when it’s in season from July to September – if you live in the northern hemisphere. Shaun is on the lookout for a melon with a shriveled stem, that way he knows when it’s fully ripened. He also loves to work outdoors, the challenge each new and different year brings, and knowing he is producing a quality product that others will enjoy. Shaun points out that one surprising fact about melons is that because of a name like “watermelon” one might think the crop requires relatively large amounts of water, when in fact the average melon crop needs as much water as grass. Eggplant, barley, and wheat require more water than watermelon crop, for example.

Sarah Hovinga
Sarah Hovinga
Sarah Hovinga,
Senior Scientist, Biologics Project and Product Support, Disease Management, Bayer Division Crop Science

Zach Bagley, the Managing Director of the California Tomato Research Institute, enlightened me and caused me to pause and appreciate our food chain and what it provides. Zach recommends that “when you are interested in adding tomatoes to your meal, consider the benefits of the canned tomato. Almost all canned tomatoes are packed within 8 hours of harvest, and all are healthier than fresh. The canning process concentrates the beneficial antioxidant lycopene!”. When I asked Zach about his favorite fruit, other than the tomato, of course, he specifically recommends Braeburn apples for their hefty, aromatic, and reliably good flavor. Zach is lucky enough to be able to buy his apples locally in Sacramento’s Apple Hill region.

Another friend and farm manager, Dominic Bruno, highlights that if you pay attention to the weather and season, it will give you a pretty good clue of what is local and in season or not. For example, if it is cold and raining outside, most likely the table grapes in your grocery store aren’t grown nearby.

Agriculture doesn’t only involve crops that can be eaten, but also what can be visually appreciated like fresh-grown, local flowers. Tony Ortiz is the Operations Manager for Joseph and Sons, a family owned and operated cut flower farm in Santa Paula, California. He enjoys being outside, that every day is different in farming, and loves producing a quality, beautiful product that makes people smile. When Tony does eat produce, his go-to is an avocado. He looks for ones that aren’t too hard or soft, and eats them with every meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When Tony can’t find them growing in his backyard, he looks for locally grown to support nearby farmers.

Next time you’re in the store, keep some of these tips in mind for a more connected, fun, and educated shopping experience. I know I will!

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