A favorite summer memory of many Wisconsinites is the taste of a freshly-picked, homegrown tomato still warm from the sun’s rays.
Food straight from the garden just tastes better – ever wonder why? Read on to hear our top reasons for choosing home- or locally-grown produce.
Gardening as a lifelong hobby
Gardening is a great opportunity to stay physically active. Whether you have adult relatives nearby, children or grandchildren, get the whole family involved! A garden can offer a wealth of lessons about responsibility, patience, and hands-on science. Simple, almost meditative tasks such as pulling weeds and watering plants brings many gardeners a sense of relaxation and peace of mind. Gardening may also expose you to new interests such as botany, landscape architecture, photography, nutrition, and local farmer’s markets.
Supporting local agriculture & building community
If starting or reinvigorating your own garden space is not possible, check out a farmer’s market to support both your local farmers & economy. This way, you can still reap the benefits of local produce; often the produce at local markets has been picked within 24 hours of your purchase! In addition, you can meet the folks who grew your food, ask questions about the growing process, learn about this season’s crops, and connect with your community.
Check out the Dodgeville Farmer’s Market 8-11 am every Saturday morning from May to the end of October, located at the United Methodist Church at 327 N Iowa St.
Mineral Point has a market on Saturdays as well, from 8:30-11 am at Water Tower Park, located at Business 151 and Madison Street.
Interested in a community garden space? Local options include River Valley Area Community Gardens located in Spring Green or Wisconsin Heights Community Gardens in Mazomanie. Community gardens can be a wonderful way to grow your own produce on shared land while connecting with like-minded community members.
Grace Lutheran Church in Dodgeville has a community garden which donates food to the Iowa County Food Pantry. Want to lend a helping hand? Contact Jennifer Williamson (JLBARGER@GMAIL.COM) if you’d like to get emails about how to help in the garden.
It doesn’t take an expert to notice how much more flavorful and colorful locally grown produce is. The fruits and vegetables grown in your own garden, picked at peak ripeness, and eaten soon after are more nutritionally dense than produce that has traveled thousands of miles to arrive at your local grocer. As time passes post-harvest, fruits and vegetables lose nutrients.
Both storage and cooking methods can affect the nutritional content of plant foods. According to World’s Healthiest Foods, up to 80 percent of some flavonoids – the plant chemicals responsible for vivid colors, antioxidant and other health-promoting properties – can be lost in the cooking process. Onions stored at room temperature can lose up to one-third of their flavonoids in just two weeks. You may have noticed that with excessive cooking, vegetables lose their vibrant color, this is a good indicator that they have also lost nutrients. Aim for a rainbow of colors, with a balance of both raw and cooked vegetables. Garden or locally sourced produce means far less time from harvest to table, so you are getting the maximum nutrition from your fruits and vegetables.
How to best preserve nutrients in your produce? Eat in a timely manner post-harvest, keep skins on whenever possible, choose short cooking times and steaming over boiling, and use a small amount of water if you do choose to boil.
Whether you grow your own fruits and vegetables or you support local agriculture through farmer’s markets, you are helping to maintain local farmlands and green, open community spaces. Gardens can help to improve biodiversity by creating an environment where worms, honeybees, butterflies, birds, toads, beneficial insects and other wildlife can thrive. If you are curious about specifics of how to add biodiversity to your garden, check out this article by the Missouri botanical Garden.
When growing your own produce, you have the option to grow your garden organically or to use natural pesticides- benefiting both your family’s health as well as the planet’s.
By recycling produce peels and other plant waste into your own nutrient-rich compost, you can cut down on smelly plant waste decomposing in your trash bin AND save money otherwise spent on fertilizer. This article from Eating Well is a crash course in Composting 101.
Feeling inspired? Review this previous Nutrition Made Simple post about starting your own garden.
From traditional garden plots to raised beds to patio container gardening, there is likely a gardening style to fit your space and abilities. More info on that here.
Valerie Koschnick RDN, CD