Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Trendy Gardening

The title of this post seems kind of strange to me.  How can gardening be trendy?  Is it the huge variety of different colored tomatoes?  Purple green beans and fantastically shaped squash that are featured on the front of your favorite seed catalog?  Is it the way that people are challenging norms by planting food in their front yards or efforts by some to grow in the most unlikely of places?  Any of these could be the source of gardening's new trendiness, but I think it all comes down to our new awareness of our foods locality and concerns about the genetic engineering of our food.

Today some stores list where produce was grown.  It is common for the organic section to be nearly as large as the traditionally grown fruits and vegetables.  The natural foods section takes up several isles and is easy to find.  It is apparent that we are all concerned about where our food is coming from and how it was grown.  We care and that in turn means that the market must be more transparent and provide us with the information we desire.

While traditional grocery stores, which have not really be around that long, are where most of us buy the bulk of our groceries there are other options.  The largest is the farmers market, where you can speak to the grower and learn about how your food was grown and exactly where it came from.  A local CSA (community supported agriculture) offers a personal relationship with a grower and a great variety of seasonal produce.  The backyard vegetable garden has seen a great resurgence as well.  If you are new to gardening consider joining a community garden where you can tap into a wealth of knowledge by quizzing your fellow gardeners.

The CSA option is wonderful in that you will be supporting a local farmer by buying a subscription.  This means that through the growing season a box of produce that is in season will be prepared for you.  You will not get to choose what goes into the box and you will likely need to pick it up from a central drop location.  Generally there is some savings in buying a subscription in comparison to buying the same produce from the farmers market.  The grower benefits by having the money at the beginning of the season when most of the expenses occur and having a ready market for what he produces with no middle man.

As your family comes to enjoy a greater range of produce and also begins to consume much more each week you may begin to eye your backyard.  A vegetable garden needs full sun.  There are some things you can grow in partial shade but you will miss out on the home grown tomato.  The easiest first garden in a raised bed.  It will warm up earlier in the spring and it will help contain your enthusiasm by limiting the size of your first garden.  The best way to learn to hate gardening is by starting too large and having it go from being a fun and fulfilling activity to a burdensome chore.

I believe that the best way to become trendy is to join your local community garden.  This offers all of the benefits of the other options, plus it provides a great opportunity to truly become part of your community.  By joining a community garden you will have a support system and a wealth of knowledge to tap into.  Gardeners love to share what they know and are truly encouraging to new members. Another benefit is that you will likely be able to have a larger garden with more variety.  With a community garden you will see produce grown that simply does not appear in the regular market.

In a community garden there are likely restrictions on what can be used on the garden and what can be grown there.  It does take a bit of compromise to make one work.  If you join the local community garden it will free up space in your own yard to grow something that you might not have had room for in the past.  Some gardens choose to grow only heirloom veggies and to save seed.  This provides a great opportunity for learning about seed saving and to develop varieties that are perfectly adapted to your area.  I encourage you to research the options in your area and develop a food web of your own.

For those of you who are attempting a 100 mile diet challenge you will find that a combination of many of these strategies makes your journey much simpler.  Few of us could grow all of our own food on our own.  But by employing your local farmers you will find that you are supporting your local economy and meeting a lot of fascinating people.  Meat, eggs, and dairy are all available in most locations but they may require some sleuthing on your part.  Unfortunately there are many restrictions on these foods.  Plan to pay a little more, but as you eat more produce you will most likely eat fewer meat centered meals.

Gardening can be trendy in many ways.  So go out and grow some purple potatoes and orange striped tomatoes!  Join the local CSA or your community garden.  It is important to know where your food comes from and what it took to grow it.  Meet the people in your community who dedicate their lives to producing healthy fresh produce and humanely produce meat and eggs.  Learn all you can and put your dollar to work to improve your quality of life and the health of your local environment.  Get Growing!