Fresh & local

There is no place better for "locally grown" - from your backyard, or the farm

by Laurie Cohen
rom the very moment a vegetable has been picked, its natural sugars start converting to starches. Every day that store-bought vegetables spend in transit from field to warehouse to store shelf, they lose the natural goodness that the earth and sun have given them. If you are growing your own vegetables, you probably already know the difference between store-bought and home-grown. It's something close to the difference between night and day or yin and yang.

Compare a just-picked green pepper to the supermarket produce selection. You'll often find that even at the peak of the season the pepper has a rather soft wrinkled skin, indicating that it is losing it's precious moisture and becoming too old to sell. The same goes for tomatoes and eggplant. Fresh corn should taste as sweet as sugar if it hasn't sat around too long. Some markets sell produce that has been sprayed with a fine oil or wax that helps preserve its moisture. Don't be fooled: the pepper or tomato will be close to tasteless, having spent up to two weeks boxed and shipped and laying on the supermarket shelf. Is this a great reason to grow your own food?

Your own vegetables can be picked at the time they are ripest, bursting with flavor and vitamins. Most tomatoes are picked before they ripen to extend their shelf life. If you're not growing your own vegetables, be an informed consumer and demand that the stores remove old produce from their shelves and not try to pass it off as fresh and wholesome.

Every fruit and vegetable has a season it grows best in. We are blessed in Southern California to have fertile farmland in our central valleys and deserts so that the range of seasonal produce is terrific. But remember that a peach bought in January was grown in the southern hemisphere and came to market after being fumigated with other unseasonable produce.

Shop around. Some stores have tremendous purchasing power and you can find good produce at great prices. Organically grown produce is often more expensive to grow, thus costing you more at the store. However, the health benefits and the fact that it may have been locally grown makes it some of the best tasting around.

Farmer's markets have stalls with fresh produce being sold. But be sure to ask the sellers if they truly are the farmers, or if they just buy and resell the produce. Farmers will be quick to explain how they grow their produce and what chemical pesticides they may use. Organic growers work very hard at providing the very best for a great price.

The pride of eating vegetables grown in your own backyard or region, coupled with the advantages of freshness and wholesomeness, is incomparable. It's never too late to grow your own food, and the rewards are too many to count. Plant away! Join a garden club to share seeds and starts with other home gardeners and start growing your next meal!

Laurie teaches organic gardening from her own backyard garden and has founded the Clairemont Organic Gardening Club. For information call her at 270-1490.