Have you ever wondered if it is worth the time and effort it takes to grow your own food when it's so easy to just buy what you need at the grocery store? Sometimes we wonder that on our more challenging years of growing, but I can confidently say it's always worth it. Here are some reasons why we encourage everyone to grow at least some of their own food, and/or find a local farmer to support!
WHERE WE CAME FROM
It's important to remember that over 100 years ago food was not kept in grocery stores as we know today. The very first grocery store (depending on who you ask) was the Piggly Wiggly which opened in Memphis, TN in 1916. This is not all that long ago in a way, that grocery stores have even existed. At first, customers would pass their grocery list to a clerk who would fill the order. But then, at places like the Piggly Wiggly, shoppers did their own choosing and the products and displays did all the tempting. This is the beginning of putting all those tempting items (like candy) at eye level and at the check out stand!
Now marketing departments work on designing boxed packages with photos of farms and cows gleefully grazing in the sunshine, telling us our food came from a farm that looked like the one on the package when, in most cases, nothing could be further from the truth.
But before these grocery stores, where was all the food?
The answer: Food was kept in cellars after bring cured, smoked, dried or pickled. It was in local communities, and basements and cold houses. It was close by and seasonally eaten or stored for winter food.
While I'm grateful for new methods for storing foods and very grateful for refrigerators, there are some good things learned from this idea of keeping our food close to home; from growing to preservation to the plate!
Here are a few reasons we should all grow at least some of our own food:
If you haven't already seen it, there has been a huge recall on a variety of packaged foods again this month.
“The recall was initiated after the company’s environmental samples tested positive for Listeria monocytogenes,” Fresh Ideation Food Group said in its recall announcement.
Eating Listeria-contaminated food can cause a serious infection that can lead to symptoms including fever, headache, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The recalled foods were distributed in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, according to the FDA.
The products – which included items like bacon, egg and cheddar muffins, breakfast croissants, tuna and chicken sandwiches, and fruit cups – were sold in stores, vending machines and by transportation providers, according to the company.
“All recalled products have a Fresh Creative Cuisine label and/or identifier on the bottom of the label with the Fresh Creative Cuisine name and a fresh through or sell through date ranging from January 31, 2023 through February 6, 2023,” the company said.
These types of messages and news reports are fairly common these days. It seems like we see several every year and still more that we don't see because we missed the report and it didn't impact us personally.
Foods that are processed and mass-produced come into contact with metal, toxic chemicals, and dirty conditions that come from constant contamination and cleaning chemicals to try to combat those conditions.
HOME GROWN FOOD DOESN'T GET RECALLED!
When you grow your own food, you control your growing environment. And that means you don’t need to worry about E. coli, salmonella, or listeria outbreaks, as long as you keep a tidy garden and have a clean water source. We eat our produce right out of the garden all the time, and never a case of listeria, E. coli or any other contaminants. Our immune systems is likely boosted too, from all that working with soil!
RISING FOOD PRICES
With the current state of affairs in the world, the cost of groceries has gone up rapidly in the last two years.
So it stands to reason that growing your own food can save some money on groceries, but let’s be real: Some people go all out on their gardens and the amount of money they’re actually saving is debatable. Like any financial investment, your potential return (and long-term success) largely depends on what you choose to grow. Not all crops have the same monetary value, but knowing what to grow can offer significant savings over supermarket purchases.
What kind of crops are worth your time? It helps to start with how much they cost at the market. Prices tend to fluctuate based on the season, geographic location, and environmental factors like drought or disease, but generally, these items are the most expensive to buy organic:
Leaf lettuce (and other leafy greens like kale and chard)
Summer squash (including zucchini)
Beans (you can get more bang for the buck by growing pole beans up a trellis, thereby maximizing your garden space)
One of the reasons we aren't growing as many root vegetables this year like carrots is because they are what we call "one and done" crops. That is, you plant them once and harvest once and it's all over. We sometimes try to succession plant these but it's difficult in our climate to do so. So for some of these items, we will still buy them at a store (if organic) or at a local farmer's market during the season as it is more cost effective.
On the other hand, a single tomato plant can yield upwards of 35 pounds of tomatoes. Organic bell peppers (which go for as much as $2.00 each in my local grocer) continue to grow all season long until the first freeze, giving us several harvests from a healthy plant. And much of these that aren't used immediately can go into our freezers for use all winter long.
It's easy to waste food when it is so plentiful here in America. But so much of this waste happens before it even makes it to your home! We waste food in our supply chain because there are so may edible and good pars of vegetables that never make it to market. This is due to:
- Industrial farming - this is hard on the plants due to fertilizers, pesticides and mechanical harvesting.
- Veggies that don't survive the transit or survive, but look so terrible that no one wants to purchase them once they hit the store shelves.
When we put the effort into growing our own food, we are naturally more inclined to be diligent to not let our hard work go to waste! So anything that isn't eaten in time, is frozen, preserved or dried so it can be eaten later in the winter months.
FRESH, MORE NUTRITIOUS AND TASTES SO MUCH BETTER
About 30 percent of fresh vegetables and 55 percent of fresh fruits sold in the United States come from overseas, and those numbers continue to grow. That means they traveled many hundreds or thousands of miles to reach your grocery store, in trucks, trains, and ships. How fresh do you think all that produce really is by the time it lands on your table?
Yeah, probably not so fresh—especially when a lot of vegetables (for example, tomatoes) are harvested when they’re still green and forced to ripen in produce distributors’ warehouses by artificial exposure to ethylene gas. This is why your red, supposedly-ripe supermarket tomatoes are still rock hard when you buy them and taste kind of like styrofoam.
No one can argue that your own yard is as fresh and local as it gets. And since your food is just steps away, you can pick your vegetables at peak ripeness (and peak nutrition) in the proper season, with flavors and textures that surpass those of commercially grown produce.
I firmly believe that more people would be vegetable lovers (including children) if they are raised on home-grown produce. The taste is so much better! I never liked tomatoes as a child until I grew my own, I never knew a tomato could have so much flavor! Now, I can hardly bring myself to eat a store-bought tomato.
COMMERCIALLY GROWN FOOD LACKS NUTRIENTS
Despite (or because of) scientific advances and modern farming practices, the vegetables of today have fewer vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients than the vegetables our grandparents and great-grandparents ate. Research has shown up to a 40 percent decline in nutritional content in fruits and vegetables since the 1940s.
Most researchers agree this is because of two things:
Environmental dilution effect. The yield increases resulting from fertilization, irrigation, and other environmental means used in industrial farming tend to decrease the concentrations of minerals in those plants. So while farmers can get greater yields from their crops (at more affordable costs), it comes at the expense of lower-quality food.
Genetic dilution effect. This is the result of scientists breeding high-yielding crops without a focus on broad nutrient content.
Much of the food grown commercially comes from hybrid plants that were bred for “desirable” characteristics such as pest and disease resistance, uniformity in appearance, and high yields in a short span of time. While all of this makes it easier for industrial farmers to reliably produce vast amounts of perfect-looking food, nutritional value sometimes suffers.
PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
As we've seen with the covid lockdowns, or even natural disasters, it is so easy for food in grocery stores to suddenly be gone or in short supply. How wonderful to have at least some food we are able to grow and preserve ourselves.
(And I'll add a short note here also to say: If you are able, GET YOUR OWN CHICKENS. Having your own eggs is such a nutritious, whole food and it is easy to do once you get set up for it.)
Even if you can't raise all or even most of your own food, just start somewhere with a small garden. Teach your children to grow a garden as well. What a wonderful, healthy and productive way for children to spend time. For those items you can't grow yourself, look around at local farmer's markets and offer your support to him/her. You may find with a small greenhouse that you can keep growing lettuce well into winter. We even grow lettuce in our basement during the winter months, under grow lamps. We are able to produce enough lettuce for salads almost every day of the winter on just one set of shelves and 3 sets of grow lamps!
The more we have farmers growing healthy foods in our local communities, the healthier we will be. And the more we teach the next generation how to do so, the better off they will be.