Grow it Yourself or Buy Local
Fresh Roasted Vegetables
Root vegetables of any kind, potatoes, cauliflower, peppers, squashes, whatever is growing in your backyard
Salt and Pepper
Directions: Peel and chop vegetables, coat with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 350̊ F oven until golden brown stirring occasionally.
In December in Iowa, three feet of snow are on the ground, and no plant with any sense of self respect is going to be doing anything except sleeping for the winter, but the shelves of Kroger are full of tomatoes, cucumbers and even kiwis and mangos. While it’s great to be able to eat whatever we want whenever we want to, this was not Nature’s plan, and it certainly doesn’t do her any favors.
Take a quick glance at the items in any given shopping cart at the grocery store checkout. Even if the cart contains fresh produce, organically grown and other health foods, the cost to the environment to purchase these items at the grocery store is not environmentally benign. The apples are most likely grown in Washington or Oregon, harvested by a fossil-fuel consuming machine and then shipped in refrigerated trucks for at least hundreds of miles to reach their grocery shelf location, and that’s just during the U.S. apple growing season. The rest of the year, apples are shipped in from Chile or even New Zealand. Almost all of the lettuce, cucumber, avocado, celery and other salad fixens are now grown in California, also known as the ‘salad bowl’ state. By the time your fresh produce arrives on the supermarket shelf, it has consumed several times its own weight in energy and has traveled an average of 1,500 miles to reach your plate. Also, by the time the produce ends up in the supermarket display case, the term ‘fresh produce’ is a bit of an oxymoron.
How did people survive in the old days when global produce wasn’t available? The answer is they had to be industrious and plan ahead. Harvests of fruit and vegetables were preserved either through drying or canning and then consumed through the winter. Mixed salad greens with mango wasabi dressing were not a menu option in Iowa in the winter of 1840.
A few people alive in the United States continue to honor the tradition of eating a seasonal diet. On one end of this spectrum are the Mennonite communities scattered across the continent that maintain traditional lifestyles as a matter of religious practice. On the other hand, there are several contemporary people who choose this lifestyle as a matter of environmental consciousness.
Even if few of us, including myself, are disciplined enough to maintain the diet of the Amish, every little bit really does help. Every tomato grown on a patio, in addition to tasting much better than its grocery store cousin, saves the earth just a few more units of fossil fuel. Every egg purchased from a local farmer improves the life of a chicken and provides meaningful local employment for our farmer friends. Plant a small vegetable patch in your backyard or on your patio in pots with your children. The kids might even want to eat vegetables when they grow them themselves. This small act goes a long way towards making the world a better place.
Providing fresh, nutritious food for our children need not be a luxury for America’s affluent. As more and more Americans make their way into poverty and the economy continues to slide backwards into a ditch, growing food ourselves should be an obvious solution. It is a non-consumer option not promoted by our corporations or government because it can be done for free. While backyard and community gardening may not add anything to the bottom line of the Gross National Product, the benefits will include healthier children, lower healthcare costs, greater community integration, and the list goes on.
Growing one’s own food can be done for next to nothing and need not require herculean effort or acres of arable land. Every person with a balcony or a tiny patch of land can make a vegetable garden. Many communities also have vacant municipal lands that can and have been used to create community gardens. Excellent examples of the positive impacts of community gardens can be noted in San Francisco, the Bronx and many other urban areas.
During World War II, transportation systems were challenged and food shortages were rampant resulting in rationing of many staple foods. In order to answer the American public’s need for food, the U.S. government encouraged people to grow victory gardens as part of their patriotic duty. Urban dwellers rose to the occasion and converted city rooftops, vacant lots and backyards into productive vegetable gardens. Half of wartime food was produced by individuals growing their own food. We need to engage in the spirit of the victory garden again in this country and encourage our citizens to rise again to war against the malnutrition and obesity rampant in our culture. By growing our own food and helping others to do the same we can feed our hungry children and empower them to take their destiny into their own hands.
Seeds are very inexpensive to purchase ranging to a couple of dollars for a packet at most. Seeds can also be acquired in heirloom fruits and vegetables purchased at farmer’s markets. Heirloom seeds can be saved year after year from the harvest preserving valuable varieties of food plants and at no cost to the hobby farmer. Many local agricultural extension offices and 4-H clubs will donate seeds and plants or sell them for very reasonable prices with all proceeds going back into worthwhile community programs.
Once seeds have been procured, only sun, water and a bit of dirt are required to create healthy food. Many towns and municipalities collect, mulch and compost yard waste and tree trimmings and give the compost and/or mulch away to anybody willing to cart it off. For those in proximity to rural areas, most farmers will gladly give away nutrient-rich manure to anybody willing to come and collect it. In a backyard garden patch, a bit of manure and mulch may be all that is required to establish healthy soil.
Once the beds, pots, etc. are prepared, growing one’s own food is actually quite easy and requires nominal labor. In a well-mulched backyard garden patch, one can keep weeds under control, water and tend to other required maintenance in an hour or two on the weekend. This weekend labor also offers the benefits of getting some pleasurable exercise and fresh air. We have been duped into believing that home vegetable gardening is an arduous and labor intensive, unpleasant experience. It isn’t.
By succumbing to the allure of convenience food, Americans have slowly but surely sacrificed much more than they realize. Nutritionally and taste-wise, nothing compares to food grown fresh in one’s own backyard. When indoctrinated into gardening before exposure to video games, children, with an innate fascination for nature, can be some of the most avid of gardeners. A couple of weekend hours in the garden creates priceless quality family time and teaches our children to be self sufficient by growing their own food, invaluable skills and experiences that will last a lifetime.
Along with air and water, food is the most basic of human necessities. For much of human history, access to nutritious food was a free, nature-given right. By growing our own, we take the power of food away from big business and put it back into our own hands. Nothing is more empowering, and this basic freedom is equally accessible to rich and poor alike.