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The season of the harvest

Forget the Christmas shopping season. This is the time of year Bryan LoVullo ramps up his planning for gifts he is about to receive.

His bounty in the many weeks ahead will come from his garden.

LoVullo spent the winter preparing seeds, and he already has some of them planted in trays and cups near his south- or west-facing windows. Other seeds – including for root vegetables and sugar snap peas – will go into the ground in the next few weeks. His indoor tomato and pepper seedlings are slated for outdoor planting about Memorial Day, when he's pretty sure he won't have to contend with spring frosts.

“Timing is everything,” he said, and if you time things the right way, you can get three or four harvests during the local growing season.

For the health-conscious eater, not everyone is as resourceful as LoVullo, yard manager and plant specialist at the Urban Roots growing cooperative on the West Side. But the good news is you don't have to know anything about gardening to share in the treasure trove of local fruits and vegetables during the next six months. You can stop at the organic produce sections of conventional grocery stores, for one.

But there are many other choices, and advance planning can save you money and provide you with the freshest, most healthful whole foods possible.

1.Go the garden route – The most cost-effective way to have good food is to grow your own, and this is a good time to do so in Western New York. Resources in the region for starting your own garden are vast and readily accessible.

“We're all learning from each other,” said Patti Jablonski-Dopkin, general manager at Urban Roots. “Growing your own food is, I don't want to call it a trend, because I think it's going to stay for a long time. Food prices are expensive, people are questioning the types of food and how food is grown, and so they are growing their own.”

Dozens of local garden stores will open in the coming weeks, and Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo already is working with city residents on nearly 70 community gardens. Meanwhile, Urban Roots at 428 Rhode Island St., is ready to help city and suburban dwellers alike plan and produce container gardens or gardens on small patches of land. The cooperative sells seeds, supplies and week-to-week gardening books, as well as down-to-earth advice on growing techniques that limit pesticide use.

The shop also offers “heirloom” seeds for the kind of veggies your grandparents used to grow, before many plants were grafted and genetically modified, and free or cheap gardening workshops.

2.CSAs – An option for those who can buy their vegetables upfront for an entire growing season. Nine Community Supported Agriculture farms in the greater Buffalo area, and twice as many in the Rochester area, are listed. 

Arden Farm outside East Aurora is among them, and it grows about 80 varieties of vegetables on 10 acres. A single couple pays $450 to $650 and a family $650 to $950 a growing season, then visits the Billington Road farm weekly to collect enough fresh vegetables for a week. By the first week in June, there are about a half-dozen things coming out of the ground, and in September and October, “everything is coming in,” said Dan Roelofs, farm owner. Roelofs said this approach to fresh food “costs less than wholesale.”

3.Health food stores – These include the Lexington Co-operative Market on Elmwood Avenue and Feel Rite in five locations across the region. The co-op – which features 50 to 65 varieties of fresh fruit and 80 to 100 veggie varieties, depending on the season – also offers gardening and healthy eating classes, including canning classes at the end of the growing season that will keep you in fruits and veggies throughout the winter.

4.U-pick – Find more than three dozen U-pick farms in Erie and Niagara counties alone; scroll toward the bottom for a regional county-by-county breakdown.

5.Farmers' markets – The Clinton-Bailey, Horsefeathers and North Tonawanda farmers' markets are among year-round stops, and a slew of markets will begin to open in mid-May. 

Go early in the day for the best selection and late in the day for better deals.

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