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The Emphasis of Local Nutrition

Brittney Offenburg, BS Nutrition and Dietetics student

April is such an exciting time of year in southeastern North Carolina. Our flowers are blooming, the days are getting longer. Not to mention warm water is just around the corner, a reminder that summer months are coming. For me, the most exciting part about winter ending is the start of gardening seasoning. Oftentimes we talk about the importance of purchasing local food and using seasonal ingredients if possible, drawing the connection to the area around us and our dinner plate. Many farmer markets in the area provide fresh produce, wild caught seafood and sustainable animal products. You can find fresh flowers, herbs, salsas or even local kombucha. Purchasing from local farmers makes your experience a little more personal than the average grocery store run. However, we can go even further, making food more personal by growing ourselves. 

According to the USDA plant hardiness zone map, southeastern North Carolina falls between Zone 8a and 8b. The hardiness zone is based on the lowest average temperature in the area, providing insight on which plants will survive the colder winters.  This allows farmers and gardeners alike to plan for a fruitful harvest. According to North Carolina State University’s Horticulture Department, cabbage, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and sweet potatoes are among the most commonly grown food in North Carolina. Our state grows 1.7 billion pounds of sweet potatoes every year, making it the top producing state in the country. Not to mention collards, peppers, strawberries and blueberries thrive in our climate. Continuous sunshine, passing rainstorms and warm weather make North Carolina a wonderful host of diverse gardens, fungi, medicinal plants and an impressive botany profile. After we have carefully tended to our vegetables and they finally make it to our plate, what are some of the benefits we cultivated? In addition to reduced stress levels, time in nature and increased exercise; a garden also provides incredible nutritional benefits. 

Sweet Potatoes

Plants are grouped together in families based on botany characteristics they share with each other; surprisingly sweet potatoes and red potatoes are from different families. One of the most fascinating things about sweet potatoes is that they are closely related to morning glories and bindweed, all being a part of the convolvulaceae family. Sweet potatoes are a highly nutritious, starchy vegetable that provides a wide variety of nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, copper, manganese and Vitamin B6. Sweet potatoes are incredibly popular for many reasons; like their fiber content that may support gut health, digestive health and our gut microbiome. You often hear the saying “eat the rainbow” because colorful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants; responsible not only for their color but health benefits as well. The bright orange sweet potato contains an antioxidant called beta carotene, which supports healthy eye function. My favorite thing about sweet potatoes is their versatility and how they can be prepared in so many different ways. I think of them as an any-time-of-day potato, for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. Not to mention, pulling a bunch that you grew out of the ground is quite satisfying. 

Collards Greens 

A member of the brassicaceae family, collard greens are related to broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts, all sharing similar botany characteristics. Inside you will find a variety of nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and magnesium. One cup of cooked collards offers 5 grams of protein, 8 grams of fiber, 11 grams of carbohydrates and 1.5 grams of fat. We can’t mention collards without talking about its impressive calcium content, providing almost 25% of your daily amount. Leafy greens such as collards may support blood glucose levels through their antioxidant and fiber content. It’s important to note that collards are high in Vitamin K and consumption may possibly interact with anticoagulants or blood thinning medication. Boiled, steamed or stir-fried, collard greens can be prepared in a variety of ways offering an extensive nutrition profile. As the weather gets colder, they get sweeter, making fall an ideal time for harvest.

These are just a few of many highly nutritious vegetables that are perfect for the growing season in North Carolina. Growing your own vegetables is a wonderful way to connect not only with nature but your food as well. It provides insight to the hard work and dedication farmers exhibit while they provide for our grocery stores and markets. The nutritional benefits of the food we grow is only one piece of the puzzle; I believe gardening strengthens the mind, body and spiritual connection within us while teaching patience. I encourage you this summer to volunteer at a local community garden, participate in a vegetable gardening workshop, plant a flower bed with helpful pollinators or visit a local farmers market. I believe as we strengthen our relationship with regional food, an increase in our personal health is an inevitable outcome.

Local Resources for community gardening, combating food insecurity and farmers markets,

Surf City Nutrition Non-Profit

Wilmington Farmers Markets

Purchase Local Compost Here

Brittney Offenburg believes in empowerment through education. She attended

the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism where she studied western herbalism and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Metropolitan State University of Denver.


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