I remember my father spending hours in the garden each weekend. He took a pride in providing most of our vegetables and caring for raspberry bushes and stone fruit. Heaven help children or dogs who damaged anything.
As I look back I realise just how good those vegetables were – peas, lettuce, carrots, celery were given a quick rinse under the tap and into children’s mouths. We ate most of our vegetables raw: sometimes without the benefit of the rinse. And of course, there were the strawberries hiding in straw, the raspberries, the cherries and the nectarines.
How fortunate we were. So many children these days don’t know what garden fresh produce is.
So what are the benefits to growing your own food?
1. Garden Fresh, Really Fresh Produce
You see supermarkets advertising that their fruit and vegetables are fresh. Yeah, right. The vegetables you buy from the supermarket are not really fresh.
By the time local produce reaches the supermarket shelves it is several days old. Staff spray it with water to reduce wilting but vegetables, especially greens, lose quality and some of their nutritional value quickly.
Did you know that the sugar in sweet corn starts to turn to starch soon after the cob is picked? The super-sweet varieties have more sugar to lose but they become starchy and short of flavour within a few days. Supermarket corn is several days old by the time you buy it. Can you imagine how sweet it must have been when it was first picked?
Fruit ages quickly after it is picked, especially soft fruit like strawberries. Apples and pears will last longer if kept in cool conditions. Have you noticed how store-bought apples lack the taste that home-grown, tree-ripened ones have? It seems to me that they have been picked before they were sufficiently ripe.
2. Greater range of varieties
People who don’t have a home garden are often amazed at the flavour and texture of home-grown vegetables or fruit that friends or neighbours may give them. This is partly because it is fresh. It is likely, too, that the home gardener has grown plant varieties that are not sold commercially.
Tomatoes, for example, are specially bred for long shelf life, consistent size and shape, and they are solid so that they don’t damage easily. I don’t know where taste fits into the picture.
Those grown outdoors in the summer have a reasonable flavour, if very little sweetness but I’ll swear that the tomatoes sold in winter in New Zealand resemble plastic in texture, have very little juice and no flavour.
I don’t grow tomatoes in the winter, though some people apparently have some success growing them indoors. In the summer I grow heirloom varieties, of which there are probably hundreds. Most varieties have superb flavour and they come in a range of colours, shapes and sizes.
Heirloom seeds are available for many other vegetables too. If you prefer, seed producers produce hybrid seed of many varieties of vegetables for home growing. You just need to look at the packets of seed on display in shops to see this. It’s not a case of “Do they sell carrot seed?” but “Phew! Which of these would I like to grow?”
In New Zealand, at no time have I seen yellow, purple or white carrots on the supermarket shelves but I have seeds to grow those colours, and red as well.
Seed producers sell varieties of lettuce, radishes, beans, peas… you name it.
I mistype the word “peas” as “pean” and would you believe it? “Pean” is an entry in a catalogue I have. For the curious, it’s a small bean that looks like a pea when it’s dried. You can use it in soups and anything else that you would use small dried beans in.
This is just a hint of the exciting choice you get, which is just one of the benefits to growing your own food.
3. Peace of Mind
You’re surely aware of the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides to assist the growing of bulk produce. There is now scientific proof that some agricultural chemicals are carcinogenic. Some of these are being sold to home gardeners. Although I wash or scrub bought produce thoroughly, I feel safer eating plants from my own organic garden.
Knowing that your vegetables are free of toxic residue is one of the more important benefits to growing your own food.
Growing plants organically is not difficult. The secret to success is having healthy soil, feeding it with compost, rotted manure, or purchased organic fertilisers. You can make simple, safe, homemade pest repellents if you choose.
By doing so you know that your pets are safe in the yard and your children can safely pluck peas off a vine and eat them in the garden.
4. More Nutritious
A study published in 2014 in the British Journal of Nutrition showed higher antioxidant levels and lower pesticide residues in organically grown crops. Other studies have shown higher levels of Vitamin C, certain minerals and important antioxidants. This is accompanied by lower levels of nitrates and, again, pesticide residues.
When you harvest food from your home garden it is consumed while it is still very fresh. So, of course, it still contains the nutrients that are lost when produce ages. There is a good reason for the “Fresh is Best” advertisements.
So enhanced nutrition is another of the benefits to growing your own food.
5. Saves You Money
Think of the cost of organic fruit and vegetables in a supermarket or store. Now think of the money it would cost for seeds or punnets of seedlings needed to grow your own (Forget about the time and backache). Compost and/or organic fertiliser add to your cost but seeds and a bag of fertiliser usually last for more than one season.
Make a mental list of the fruit and vegetables that you use the most of. How much of it could you grow? Your answer will take into account garden space and climate.
Now think of how much you pay each week for this food at any retail outlet. It’s a considerable amount of money, isn’t it? Setting up the garden, if you don’t already have one, is a one-time expense. However, you can often get what you require cheaply second-hand. If you decide to have raised beds, build them with what is readily available. Some junkyards have a range of large containers, such as old baths, that can be used as raised beds. Use your imagination. Let the children decorate containers that look too tatty for your taste.
For more ways of saving money while you garden, read How To Grow Organically On A Budget
6. Benefits for You and Your Family
The most obvious benefits to growing your own food in the home garden are the nutritional and financial gains. But there are many other less tangible advantages. Here are some of them:
• Science has shown that working in the garden can benefit people with mental or emotional problems
• Exercise – another health benefit.
• An opportunity for you and your family to engage in a project that benefits you all, creating memories that could last a lifetime.
• Your children can learn new skills
• A sense of achievement and pride as you grow food from seed or seedling to a mature vegetable or fruit.
• A chance to be creative as you plan, plant and tend your garden
• An increased understanding and appreciation of nature and the growth process.
• You acquire new skills and this could lead to new interests for you and the family
• Gratitude for what you have. And joy of generosity if you give some of your bounty to relatives, friends or the needy
7. Environmental Benefits
Growing your own organic food may seem a small deal in environmental terms. But it has an effect, however small.
Your fruit trees provide shade. This can reduce the amount of water you need to use. The trees help birds and other life forms in a number of ways.
- Your garden will slowly build up a balance of predators to prey on insect pests. You will use few if any, pesticides and these will contain organic, less toxic substances.
- You will compost all suitable organic waste materials and return them to the soil, as Nature does. There will be less waste to go to the tip.
- Your soil will be healthy and full of life. Pesticide levels, especially when used commercially, can build up in the soil and damage soil organisms and micro-organisms.
What Does the Medical Profession Say About Gardening?
Medical authorities favour the gentle exercise that regular gardening offers. A recent study of elderly women found improvements in aerobic endurance and manual dexterity and there were cognitive and psychological benefits as well. According to the researchers, most elderly people “spend 80 percent of their daily time in sedentary activities”. Hence spending some time in the garden made a change from their normal activities and their health improved as a result.
These benefits were further explained by Sheryl M Ness, a health professional, who remarked: “Having a garden in your life can be restoring. It gives you something to care for, celebrate, and later on, gives back by producing flowers, fruits, or vegetables to nourish your body and your soul.”
“Backyard gardening can inspire you to take an interest in the origins of your food and make better choices about what you put on your plate,” says Dr Helen Delichatsios, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
What Do People Say About Growing Their Own Food?
The National Gardening Association asked Americans to give their main reasons for growing gardens. Here are the results of the survey:
Clearly, gardeners know what they want and how to get it!
There are health, safety and social benefits to growing your own food, benefits that have far-reaching effects. Not only that, you save money and help the environment. It’s difficult to think of any disadvantages: it’s a win-win choice.
Perhaps you need some help and guidance to start up your home food production. There are numerous books and online posts on the subject.
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