The single best thing about growing your own food — and freezing much of it for the colder half of the year — is that it protects you from outside influences you can’t control. Even if the price of vegetables were to spike by 30 percent, you’d have your fresh vegetables handy that you grew. With a garden, you are in control of at least a portion of your family’s food supply.
The National Gardening Association estimates that a 600-square-foot garden will yield approximately $600 worth of produce in a year. Many gardeners will tell you that’s a very conservative estimate, and that they get a lot more out of their gardens. The average American consumes close to 2,000 pounds of food per year, so you can see how valuable a home garden can be.
It might seem somewhat “novel” today to grow your own food; but not that long ago, almost all food production for a family was done in their yard or on their farm. It’s really only been in the past 200 years or so that that has changed. Recently, gardening has become more of a hobby than a way to support a family’s food needs, but the time seems to be rapidly approaching when that might all change.
Two more reasons to grow your own food are because it will taste better than what you buy in the store and it will contain more nutrients. The vitamin, mineral and protein content of today’s supermarket food is less than what our parents ate, in some cases by as much as 40 percent.
Donald Davis, former researcher with the Biochemical Institute at the University of Texas-Austin, analyzed the nutritional content of 43 fruits and vegetables from 1950 to just before the turn of the century and found that broccoli, for example, contained 130 mg of calcium in 1950 but only 48 mg 50 years later. Here are some other statistics comparing recent food with that from 1950:
- Potatoes have lost all of their vitamin A content, 57 percent of their vitamin C and iron, and 28 percent of their calcium.
- Spinach has lost 45 percent of its vitamin C content and 17 percent of its vitamin A content.
In order to protect their crops from insects, many food growers have used pesticides and herbicides on their apples, celery, strawberries, peaches and many other crops. They’ve apparently believed that merely washing off those food items after harvesting them will keep them fit for human consumption. But it’s been discovered that those harmful chemicals can be absorbed by fruits and vegetables.
The Food and Drug Administration tells us that genetically engineered foods are safe for us to eat. Many scientists disagree. Whom do you trust? GMO fruits and vegetables have higher yields and longer shelf lives, but at what cost? At the very least, you would think that manufacturers would be required to label their food as genetically modified so that people who want to avoid them can do so easily. But, no, our government doesn’t think that’s necessary.
Those who fight against GMO foods contend that not enough testing has been done yet to warrant making these foods widely available for Americans. Others who take a stand against GMO foods will say that the testing that has been done is conclusively pointing out that GMO foods are dangerous, including results that show they interfere with the immune systems of animals. GMO corn has been shown to cause damage to the kidneys, livers and hearts of test animals, while impairing fertility in mice. GMO cotton kills sheep that graze on it.
It’s time for us to grow our own healthy food using open-pollinated, non-hybrid, heirloom seeds with strong germination rates. These authentic seeds produce offspring that stay true to their parentage and produce good-tasting and nutritious vegetables. If planted in healthy soil, exposed to enough sunlight and bathed in water, they should produce to their full potential.
It’s best to choose the vegetables and fruits you’ll grow based on what kind of space you have. Some vegetables do very well in small spaces, while others need much more room, especially for their roots. If you don’t have a yard in which to plant a garden, perhaps you can do window gardening or rent a patch of nearby land.
The amount of sunlight that plants need should also be a consideration in what you plant. If your garden gets a lot of sunlight, plants that should thrive include rosemary, tomatoes, onions, beans and squash. But if it receives much more shade than sun, you might want to choose lettuces, spinach and parsley.
Yet another factor is soil. Dirt is not just dirt, regardless of how it looks. Different types of soil include clay, sandy, loamy and various combinations. Dirt is made up of organic materials, minerals, water and air, all of which contribute in one way or another to plant growth. It may be a bit smelly, but composting is a great way to keep your soil rich with nutrients. Reportedly, 30 percent of what we toss in the garbage could be used for composting.
And, of course, there’s always the weed problem to deal with. Weeds are not merely ugly, they also can rob your plants of water, nutrients and light — not to mention giving harmful insects a place to hang out — so watch out for them and pull them up as soon as you can, before they cause damage.
Depending on where you live, the growing season may not be a long one. If you want your crops to feed yourself and your family year round, despite the weather, you need to do a good job of preserving your harvests. You can accomplish this by freezing, canning, drying and dehydrating your bounty. There are plenty of books and online resources to learn about these processes.
Ultimately, the key is to take control of your food source to avoid being negatively affected by soaring food prices and so that you’re not dependent on a government agency to feed you and your family when things get bad.