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Strawberries overflow from their boxes.

I love strawberries. You name it — strawberry ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry jam — if it can be made with strawberries, sign me up as a taste-tester.

In fact, I like strawberries so much that I fell for a nearby store’s recent “buy two quarts of strawberries, get one free” promotion even though I could clearly see on the packages that the strawberries had arrived in the store after a cross-country trip from the West Coast.

As you’ve probably guessed already, the two-thirds of the strawberries that we didn’t eat the day I brought them home were pretty mushy a few days later.

I’m tempted to make this a column on reducing food waste through simple steps like not buying more of something than you’re likely to eat, but instead I’d rather celebrate the increasing availability of Pennsylvania-grown strawberries.

In a sign of spring that is as sure as any robin, seasonal farm stands and farmers markets have opened all over Pennsylvania.

Many vendors already offer strawberries and other berries. Before too long, they’ll have fresh peaches, another of my favorites, as well as tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn and other vegetables.

Foods that travel a few miles or even a few counties to reach you will stay fresh and tasty longer than foods that traveled thousands of miles, making them a better value for you and a better deal for Pennsylvania farmers.

You can look for the Pennsylvania Preferred logo as one way to be sure that the produce you’re buying was grown in Pennsylvania.

Moreover, Pennsylvania law treats each vendor at a farmers market as a separate retailer for purposes of food safety inspections conducted by staff of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Food Safety.

So buying your fruits and vegetables from a Pennsylvania farmers market offers the same high level of care regarding food safety issues as buying produce at a grocery store.

Perhaps the best news is that the 2022 Farmers Market Nutrition Program for WIC-eligible families and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program for income-eligible seniors launched on June 1.

Featuring over 1,000 farmer vendors approved to accept program vouchers, these programs make strawberries and other produce from a Pennsylvania farm stand or farmers market even more affordable for participating seniors and WIC-eligible families.

Not sure if you qualify for vouchers? You can talk with your local agency on aging or WIC clinic to see if your income level is eligible.

Not sure where to find a participating market vendor? Download our FMNP Market Locator app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

So enjoy Pennsylvania’s bountiful harvest at our many farmers markets, farm stands, pick-your-own operations, or the many grocery stores that feature local produce.

All I ask is that you leave some strawberries for me. You never know when I might be in your neck of the woods looking for a snack.

Russell Redding is Pennsylvania’s secretary of agriculture.

Lancaster Farming

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