Garden of Eating: Going and Growing Local

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Tamar Genger MA, RD
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Maybe I’ve seen An Inconvenient Truth a few too many times, but over the past couple of years, I’ve tried more and more to go (and grow) local. I feel like I’m doing a little something to help the planet, it hasn’t hurt my wallet as much as I feared, and it just tastes better.

We’ve been frequenting the neighborhood Farmer’s Market for much of our produce and I’ve even gotten to know some of the people who grow some of the food we eat. I’ve found that our cherry tomatoes taste a lot more like cherries than the tasteless red circles that sit in cruel, soft plastic cages at the supermarket. Our fingerling potatoes and yams still smell of the earth and the yolks in our cage-free, farm-raised eggs are so bright you need to bring sunglasses to breakfast.

We’ve befriended the local beekeeper who is going to be the source of our honey this coming Rosh Hashanah, and although we are partial to the bear-shaped plastic squeeze bottle that served us well last year, we are hoping for a sweeter new year and Ken promised to have his bees working overtime for us.

We’re not alone, others are getting in on the localvore movement. A small balcony off of a mid-rise apartment in the Bronx is not exactly the place you would expect to find a flourishing garden, but Tal has created an urban oasis with eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, and a variety of herbs.    "It is more work," says Tal, "but i do it with my kids who love to water and talk to the plants.  Caring for the plants has become an activity for us to do everyday and the children love seeing the plants grow and flower and then produce the veggies."

When he is not busy attending to the spiritual needs of his congregation in Margate, Florida, Ravpp is busy picking, pruning and planting in his backyard. “When my kids all left for college I had a void in my nurturing,” said Ravpp, “so instead of raising kids I raised veggies.  Also, for stress reduction, getting up and worrying about my zucchini as the first thought of the day meant I was in a good place.”

My advice is to start small, you don’t have to rip out your backyard to start enjoying the fruits (and vegetables) of your labors. I’ve had good luck growing basil, mint and rosemary right on my back patio. These are low maintenance herbs and great to have around the kitchen.

There are also some great new products for budding green thumbs who have to put dinner on the table and get the kids bathed and to bed. With AeroGarden 6 with Gourmet Herb Seed Kit you can cultivate lettuce, cherry tomatoes, herbs, chili peppers, edible flowers, and more in an energy-efficient, organic-based environment right in the kitchen.

Ever since I started growing my own herbs, the jars of spices I had been accumulating over the years seem to stare at me with mounting frustration, as if to say, “why don’t you use me anymore?” Using rosemary, basil, parsley, thyme, mint, sage, and chives grown in my little herb garden, my dishes taste more alive. The fragrant aromatics fill our kitchen and the last time I made a pasta with a pesto sauce with fresh-picked basil, I think I heard the word “wow” come out of my three-year old’s mouth – an expression usually reserved for French fries and chicken nuggets.
Whether you decide to grow your own or just make an extra effort to select fruits and vegetables from local sources, you will connect more closely to what you eat and gain a deeper appreciation for the people who bring your food from farm to table.