FROM DIRT TO DELICIOUS
Grow your own fruits and veggies for a scrumptious treat
Vicky Katz Whitaker
Creators News Service
When your mother told you to "eat your vegetables," she forgot to add, "and grow them, too."
Fortunately, it's not that difficult, and it's healthier for you, say proponents of home gardening -- as well as cheaper than buying produce in the supermarket.
"Growing food isn't hard, or we would have starved a long time ago," said Mike McGrath, author and host of National Public Radio's nationally syndicated show, "You Bet Your Garden." He is also the garden editor of WTOP News Radio in Washington, D.C.
Once only the passion of health food fans, homegrown vegetables and fruit have become "the new gourmet food," he said. It is a trend that has transformed homeowners and urban apartment dwellers into backyard and window ledge farmers. It's also spawned numerous how-to books, cookbooks, radio and television shows, community gardens, co-ops and specialized indoor growing equipment.
Jeanne Pinsof Nolan, project manager of Chicago's Green City Market, strongly recommends renting space in a community garden if your space is limited at home.
With community gardening becoming more and more popular, getting expert advice isn't difficult, she said. "Most likely there are people very close by you who are growing food, so start looking around and you are sure to see a veggie plot nearby."
The American Community Gardening Association (communitygarden.org) provides links to community gardens in the United States and Canada. In Toronto, the Toronto Community Garden Network (tcgn.ca) has become a focal point for individuals and organizations committed to make community gardening an integral part of city life.
Homegrown vegetables and fruits are "dramatically yummier in all ways than store bought produce," Nolan said. "Because the food is fresh, it is at its nutritional peak, packing far more of the essential vitamins and minerals we are all striving to provide for our children." It's an issue that is close to Nolan's heart: She designed and oversees the Green City Market's Edible Gardens, a 5,000-square-foot vegetable garden for children to explore at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo.
Gardeners haven't been the only ones to jump on this trend. Jamie Oliver, internationally known chef, television personality, author and restaurateur, has become a worldwide advocate for using homegrown fruits and vegetables.
"If you grow your own vegetables, then you are sure to be eating in season, and eating seasonally isn't just great for flavor, it's great on your pocketbook," he said.
His show "Jamie At Home," which is shown in America on The Food Network, mirrors the British chef's book, "Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life" ($37.50, Hyperion). It features recipes inspired by the fruits, vegetables and produce grown at his Essex farmhouse.
Oliver recommends starting out by planting herbs and tomatoes, which he said he's found to be the easiest to grow. "They come in zillions of varieties, which makes them fun for the kids," he said.
"Nothing is really all that hard to grow if you have the right climate and good soil. Make sure you do your homework. I don't think bananas will do too well in New Hampshire."
No matter what, don't forget to tend to your plants.
"You must nurture your garden," he said. "You can't just drop some seeds in the ground and go. You need to feed, water and weed. But it's so worth the effort."
Back in the United States, wholesalers like Nick Covatta, owner of Eastern Shore Nursery of Virginia, has seen sales increase by 15 to 20 percent a year. "The growing popularity of fruiting plants is one of the biggest trends in gardening," said Covatta, whose Hollybrook Orchards division supplies fruit trees to major garden centers in the Middle Atlantic, New England and the Midwest. It's a movement fueled by individuals desiring "to eat a healthier diet and minimize their carbon footprint."
The slowdown in the economy is also driving the home garden trend, observed John Marshall, manager of the Scotts Training Institute, a division of Scotts Miracle-Gro company. For him, growing your own is a money-saver. "A rule of thumb is that you can produce your own vegetables for about one-seventh the cost in a supermarket."