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Early Local Asparagus, Organic Winter Squash

Farmers' Market offers some early tastes of spring, while late winter veggies still pack a flavorful punch.

When I saw those spears of asparagus at Bounty of the Valley's stand at the Campbell Farmers Market, I got excited—I've been waiting for this. March is going to kick off asparagus season in earnest as those miraculous little green fingers start pushing their way from the soil and onto our plates.

I'm not sure they're a natural aphrodisiac, as flamboyant salesman Luke Estrella playfully boasted, but I bought some, sautéed them in butter and seasonings with some other veggies, and they were delicious.

Other than the asparagus, not much will change at the market for a week or so, although I did see Moskvich early tomato starts for sale in 4-inch pots. Believe it or not, it's time to plan to prepare your winter garden for late spring and summer.

Still, it remains the season for harvesting baskets of chard and salad greens, mountains of bok choy, and piles of beets and carrots. The greens are full of nutrients and the roots are packed with sugars.

I did see, and passed up, the strawberries trucked in from Santa Maria, more than 200 miles away—those aren't local folks; please just buy what's being harvested nearby.

One fun treat I saw was Shinko Asian pears, which are available from a couple of vendors. I love the crisp texture and sweetness of an Asian pear, which are harvested usually in the fall and can keep for months.

However, these and other tantalizing fruit present another dilemma. K & J Orchards in Winters sells Asian pears, but they use some herbicides, pesticides and antibiotics to do it. They're also trucked in, and the other Asian pear vendor I saw trucks them in from Visalia.

It's another reminder to ask vendors for some details about how they farm so you know what you're buying. If we take the time to find pesticide- and herbicide-free fruit, we'll keep our families, farm workers and the environment healthier. And sometimes that means going without.

Finally, I was happy to see that Happy Boy Farms and some others still have winter squash for sale. Happy Boy has a few different organically grown varieties, including Sweet Dumplings, Orange Kabocha and your standard orange pumpkins for baking.

These squashes are so easy to bake, steam or stuff, all of which take advantage of the natural sugars in their golden flesh and let your oven warm your kitchen. Happy shopping!

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