For most foodies I know, once springtime rolls around, it's all about the freshest produce prepared in the simplest of manners. After hibernating all winter, subsisting on stews, chili, pasta dishes, and frozen meals prepared months ago when their ingredients were freshly picked, I can't help feeling giddy to see farmer's markets setting up, asparagus and lettuces appearing at the stalls. As soon as Daylight Savings time arrive, I'm ready to start planting my vegetable garden and including some freshly picked veggies in all three meals each and every day. It's just so hard to go without for so long; to feel as though you're wasting away all winter without the nourishment of handpicked vitamins and homegrown minerals.
For those of you who are less culinary-minded and food-obsessed as myself (it's kind of a problem - as soon as I finish one meal, I'm already thinking about the next!), maybe the coming of spring isn't a cause for such celebration. But I really wish that for more people, it was. You see, the vegetables and fruits you find in the grocery store throughout winter have traveled countless miles to make it to your store after being cultivated and harvested out of season in far off lands. So they're wrecking havoc on our environment just by virtue of traveling so far to our plates. And beyond that, they're not at their prime when picked, which reduces their flavor, texture, and nutritional content - and for me these are the things that yield greatest satisfaction.
I'm not saying you've got to stave off vegetables during the winter months to save the environment or your health. But I am trying to impress upon anyone who reads this the very importance of being aware of these food factors. Because when we know that certain choices are healthier for us and our loved ones than others, we're more inclined to make the best choices when the possibility to do so arises. So plant a backyard vegetable garden this spring, frequent your local farmer's market, join a CSA so you can have farm fresh produce delivered right to your door. If you've read this blog regularly, you've probably heard these things before (and in fact, you're probably tired of hearing them right now). But if you're a thoughtful, concerned citizen with an interest in your own health, that of the ones you love most, or that of the environment, think twice when you drive past the farmer's market on your way to the grocery store.
In this day and age, there are some things that people just can't avoid buying from the grocery store (though there once was a time when grocery stores, and some of the very items we think that we need from them, didn't even exist). And most of us can't imagine living without the efficiency and immediacy of store-bought foods and handy kitchen gadgets like microwaves and toast ovens. We rely on pre-packaged dinners loaded with additives, preservatives, and corn syrup since they make our hectic lives easier. But when did sustaining ourselves become such a chore? When did we start to value convenience over the real reasons that we need to eat food, health and nourishment?
I am inspired by people who thrive on the process of making bread, crackers, and other grain-based products by hand (and anyone who can find the time to do so!). Some love to harvest their produce from the safety of their own backyard, while others value building relationships with trusty farmers they know by name. These do-it-yourselfers, locavores, and gardening fanatics are helping to reverse the trend toward food efficiency by valuing the most sustainable and healthy food options available. They also provide evidence of the functional alternative food systems in place for anyone who hopes to avoid the dangers of industrial agriculture. Ensuring that you have the knowledge about the production process behind the meal on your plate is a sure-fire way to improve the nutritional quality and environmental-friendliness of your diet. Plus, gardening from home is best for your budget while providing a much tastier product than anything masked behind a plastic bag or tin can on the shelf in your local grocery store.
So go to your local garden center and pick up a few seeds or, to make it even easier on yourself, wait a few weeks and get the varieties that have already been seeded. All you've got to do is find a sizable pot or a nice sunny spot in the backyard garden for transplanting. Then a little bit of tending, especially early on in the season, goes a long way. My garden is located in the backyard and, since I use the back entrance to my house, I walk by my plants every time I come or go. This makes it unbelievably easy for me to take notice of their progress. I can keep an eye out for things such as sad, droopy leaves which usually indicates a thirsty plant, or the emergence of still-young weeds. And the internet makes it easier than ever to keep plants alive. Anytime you notice something strange in your garden, a simple Google search is likely to yield plenty of information to help you prevent plant fatality and maximize productivity. By recognizing indicators and researching abnormalities in time, gardeners can tackle problems as soon as they present themselves and be more efficient.
The pay off for such care and attention is delicious, wallet-friendly, and fundamentally rewarding. Who wouldn't feel good biting into a juicy and flavorful tomato picked fresh from the vine, knowing that it was (a) grown by their owns hands and (b) infinitely better than anything that could be purchased out of a grocery store bin?
And so ends my little diatribe for the day. I just can't stress enough how delightful and satisfying it is to be able to do some grocery shopping in your own backyard, and now is the time to start planning ahead for that summer harvest!