Growing up, my great-uncle Virgil had an impressive garden, and he and my great-aunt would can any surplus. That is, anything that was not already shared with us. I loved their pickle tray at family gatherings. My mother also had a small summer garden, which usually included peppers, squashes, tomatoes, and a few herbs. I have had little success with containers, but I consider myself to have a black thumb. That is the extent of my exposure and experience with gardening.
I got to this point by taking more interest in the life of our food before consumption. It wasn't until a couple years ago, when I was making fruit tarts in January for Provence, that I really understood why eating in season pays off. The fruit was tart, bland, or watery, even though it was being shipped from warmer climates. One of my favorite things to do now is smell food. Strawberries are the ultimate, a mixture of flowers and honey.
There are other factors, of course. Being in the food industry, I considered a difference between food grown and harvested by machinery versus hands. The added cost and footprint of food transported across the globe. Ultimately, it's not really knowing what has happened to that food since I didn't witness it for myself. We've all heard the horror stories of the meat industry. Now information is coming out against GMO's, pesticides and other sprays, and even sketchy seed companies. It's one of those things that can consume you with fear. I think it will be a good source of exercise and entertainment. A great teaching opportunity for my kids. Plus, there's a swelling in the ego when sharing homegrown and homemade goods.
There are lots of options if you are considering ditching the grocery store. Farmer's markets offer a wide variety of products, usually restricted to a certain region or distance. You still need to ask questions and build trust with your farmers. Not all of them are farmers; some simply distribute. I have even busted a stand or two for reselling produce bought from the grocery store as local, organic, or homegrown. Bananas won't grow in Tennessee, mister. Another option is a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. We participated in a CSA in Nashville and had a great experience. The farm is located in North Tennessee and is all organic. For $25 a week, we could get half a bushel of produce, and there usually was a surplus of at least one item to pick from for free. There were a couple optional selections, such as eggs, cheese, fruit and jams for sale. It was a great way to force us to eat in season and introduce some new items to the family. Please check out localharvest.org to find these options for your area. You can even order some items through the mail.
So if these options are so great, why grow your own? Well, it's simply a yearning for independence. Buying directly from the farm is awesome, but I'm still paying someone else to do something I can do myself. And there's the desire to be prepared for the worst. If all hell breaks loose, and we are unable for one reason or another to reach a food source, I'd like to be capable of creating my own food source. My choice to only grow from heirloom seed is directly linked. Buying seed every year is not self-reliance.
I know this is a kind of dry post, but I wanted to write down why I'm doing what I'm doing. Please check out localharvest.org for food source options; I'm a big fan of this site. I'd encourage everyone to try at least a couple things this year. I've heard mustard greens are a sure thing, and I know from experience mint takes care of itself. Just try it out. You'll find that that tea is a little sweeter with mint you grew in it.