"Growing your own food is like printing your own money"

Although spring has been elusive here in Wisconsin (it's mid-April and 37 degrees out with snow in the forecast), there are some signs of hope - the farmers market has finally opened! I spontaneously bought some seedlings from a farmer to plant outside in my little earth box (earth boxes by the way are awesome transportable garden beds good for people who live in apartments or have limited space). Here they are!

two types of lettuce, plus two Swiss chard

I've been meaning to get back into planting my own food for a year now, but all I've had the time and energy to do was sprout my own lentils. But now that spring is here, I can't wait to plant stuff. I was partially motivated by this TED Talk, by Ron Finley, who helps plant gardens in South Central LA. He says that where he lives (and I would argue lots of places in the U.S.), "drive thrus are killing more people than drive bys," so planting gardens is his effort towards combating obesity and food insecurity. So inspirational. My favorite quote is, of course, "Growing your own food is like printing your own money."

Teaching your kids how to live a healthy life

This post is written by Ashley Smith, a totally inspirational mother of two that has been a friend of mine since middle school! Their family raises chickens, grows their own food, and has a farm share, all things they do to help their children live healthy lives.

I never pictured myself living out in the country, raising farm animals, or growing my own food. I grew up in the suburbs in a bubble, and didn’t picture life differently until I had my own kids. I have two daughters, ages one and two.  It’s important to me that my kids have experiences that help them appreciate what they have and an understanding of how this world works together. 

Don’t get me wrong: we go to the grocery store like anyone else. We treat ourselves to our favorite foods and have lazy days, but my girls know plunking down in front of the TV with a bag of chips is an occasional thing, not our everyday routine. Most of our free time is spent exploring outside, going for walks in the woods, tending to our animals, or simply strolling through the garden. I could argue there’s nothing my oldest daughter loves more than running through rows of corn!

The girls and I participate in a farm share, which is a great experience. Much of our produce from June-October comes from a farm five miles away if it’s not straight out of our garden. Every week we go pick up our box of all kinds of fruits and veggies and I have to hold back eager children who can’t wait to tear into it.  If you don’t have the time or the space to grow your own, this is a great way to get fresh quality (usually organic) produce for a good price!

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We are currently getting our garden ready for this season, planting seeds and looking for worms. There’s nothing like picking a handful of fresh strawberries out of your own backyard for an afternoon snack. There are sure to be many more adventures for us in the future, and I hope that I can raise happy, healthy, well rounded children in the process.


How many types of tomatoes existed 100 years ago?

Something I didn't think about for most of my life was what type of tomato I was eating. I didn't know there were different varieties. I just thought a tomato was a tomato. I could tell the difference between a big tomato and a grape tomato, but that's about it. But as I started reading and learning more about healthy eating, I realized that there are tons of tomato varieties I had never seen before. Now, when I go to the farmers market or a healthy eating conference, I always hear people gushing about the particular type of heirloom tomato that they love the most. There are, in fact, 79 different types of tomato seeds that can be found in the National Seed Storage Laboratory. Different tomatoes have different flavors, shapes, and textures, and some types are better for cooking certain dishes than others. The image at the right shows some of these types.

But tomatoes aren't the only food with this much variety. There are also 28 types of cabbage, 36 types of lettuce, and 16 types of cucumbers. There are 25 types of peas, and 17 different beet varieties. Needless to say, I had no idea, and neither do most people, because grocery stores often carry just one or two varieties of these fruits and vegetables. Consumers are used to getting the same type of food everywhere they go, so a grocery store in California is expected to carry the exact same type of tomato as a store in Kansas. We are used to perfectly red tomatoes, gorgeous orange carrots, and big purple beets. But striped tomatoes, purple carrots, and orange beets exist too.

Unfortunately, these varieties are disappearing quickly. As this National Geographic image shows below, we used to have way more variety. A hundred years ago, we had almost 500 varieties of lettuce, 400 types of tomatoes, and 338 types of muskmelon. Now our seed variety has dwindled drastically.

This lack of vegetable variety doesn't just mean less colorful grocery shelves. It means that farmers have learned to grow just one type of lettuce, corn, or tomato on their farm fields. They have acres and acres of the same food, which increases the likelihood that the crop will be wiped out by a disease or insect. This practice of growing only one type of crop, called "monocropping" or "monoculture," is bad for the soil as well. But it's what farmers do, because it's what we demand at grocery stores.

Increasing the variety of seeds we grow in the U.S. is important. Different varieties of food offer different tastes and different nutrients. It's also fun to figure out how to cook with new types of foods. There are ways we can help increase the variety of seeds that farmers grow. I have been wanting to get a CSA share for years, so it will force me to try out different types of fruits and vegetables. Shop at farmers markets if possible, and buy new types of fruits and vegetables there. At the grocery store, look for more unusual varieties of the foods you usually buy. The more people demand a variety of fruits and vegetables, the more likely these varieties will stick around for the next one hundred years.

Image source: Readyplanted