Those who have tasted a summer tomato sun-sweetened on the vine or a crisp cucumber plucked from under the leaves that nourished it know the intense flavor of fresh-picked produce is unrivaled by anything found in a supermarket.
Perhaps our taste buds detect what our eyes cannot. Truly fresh produce is more nourishing and deeply satisfying to the senses. The nature of the American food system means the fruit, vegetables, and herbs found in grocery stores have often been grown hundreds of miles from our kitchens and packed, shipped, distributed, and displayed, all while being refrigerated—a process that can wreak havoc on the flavor and nutrients of delicate plants.
When food is flown or trucked to your local store, days pass between harvest and your table. Even the most perfect specimen will begin to decline before you bring it home—it loses moisture and vitamins and begins to metabolize its own reserves. Some foods, like sweet corn or snap peas, begin to transform altogether directly after picking (converting sugar to starch and losing sweetness and flavor). Although our remarkable food-distribution system provides a diverse selection of foods year-round, cost and quality are inevitably compromised.
Only a few generations ago, most of the food on the dinner table had been growing in a garden only hours before it was served. While it would be a full-time job these days to feed your family this way, it feels surprisingly good to grow some of the staples on your grocery list.
1. Taste: A New World of Flavors
One perk of gardening is the exposure to new varieties you may not have seen or tried before. Seed catalogs and garden centers offer seemingly endless options in varying colors and shapes, often with charming historical names. Thousands of varieties of tomatoes are at your fingertips,
versus the simple red, round tomato in supermarkets. A tomato grower who supplies a large market needs to grow varieties that ripen all at once for a more economical harvest that can survive shipping in good condition, while a home gardener can select tomatoes for flavor, extended harvest, and color. The same is true for many other crops.
2. Cost: Get More for Less
If you buy in bulk and clip coupons for a variety of packaged foods, gardening may not cut the cost of your regular grocery bill. But if you love to buy fresh produce—especially organic—you can confidently reduce your monthly expenditures. Cost efficiency is an age-old reason to grow your own food since seeds, sun, and nature’s soil are not expensive. However, like any hobby, gardening can get pricey if you choose to purchase lots of equipment or gardening gadgets.
3. Learning: An Outdoor Classroom
Backyard gardens teach children about the origin of food, creating a powerful connection to the dinner plate that’s simply magical. Kids can help plant, water, weed, and harvest produce, and after spending time caring for the plants, they’ll be more apt to eat the fruits of their labor. This same magic has an effect on adults, too. When you toss a homegrown salad together, cook a pot of greens, or serve a stir-fried medley of vegetables, you have a deeper appreciation of its amazing path to your plate.
4. Health: Yours, Your Children’s, and the Planet’s
When a family gardens, their diet is more diverse and inherently healthier, packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Food in its purest, freshest form is not only the tastiest way to enjoy it but also the most beneficial nutritionally.
When you grow your own food, you know what goes into it: how it’s fertilized, what pesticides are used, and overall care. If you grow organically, you can eat organically. Not only is that beneficial for you, but also fewer chemicals and less distance traveled to get the food on your plate make for a smaller carbon footprint.
Exercise is another bonus. Anyone who says that gardening is not aerobic has never raked leaves or shoveled compost.