One fine spring day, as I was helping my sister and brother-in-law to prepare and plant their vegetable garden, my then eight-year-old niece asked me, “Uncle Mark, why do we plant a vegetable garden when we can just go to the store and buy vegetables?”
At first glance, she does have a point. Why bother with all of the sweat-inducing and back-breaking work to grow our own vegetables when all we have to do is drive over to the local supermarket and purchase as many fruits and vegetables as we want — with little or no work?
Those of you who are hardcore gardeners like me are welcome to skip to the next section if you like. After all, you already know why we garden. But those of you who are new to vegetable gardening; those who have been considering it but haven’t yet started; those who’ve tried it once and are wondering if it’s worth it to do it again; and those who have their own eight-year-olds asking them the same question, read on. My niece asked a fair question that deserves a fair answer — and I’m happy to provide not just one, but several.
When you garden, you have complete control over how your crops are grown. Would you like a side of organochlorine with your broccoli? How about malathion with your muskmelon? These and other pesticides are commonly sprayed on the crops that are grown commercially and sold in supermarkets. Don’t like the thought of you or your kids ingesting chemical pesticides? Tough beans. That’s what commercial agriculture sprays on these crops, whether you want it or not. But when you grow your own, you have complete control over what gets sprayed on (or doesn’t get sprayed on) those fruits and vegetables. It’s probably the best way to assure as much as possible that you and your children are not ingesting any potentially toxic chemicals.
Home-grown fruits and vegetables are tastier, fresher, more colorful, and more nutritious than anything purchased at a supermarket. Commercially grown tomatoes are grown for uniformity and shipping hardiness — not flavor. They are picked green, transported across the country, and then gassed with ethylene to make them turn red. They have to do it that way, because naturally ripened tomatoes do not travel well. But tomatoes that are picked when green have not yet developed the flavor and sweetness of naturally reddened tomatoes. In addition, long transport times followed by long periods of setting around in a grocery bin cause many of the vitamins in tomatoes and other crops to degrade, resulting in less nutritious fruits and vegetables.
As a vegetable gardener you can harvest your crops when they are naturally ready to be harvested, since they will be traveling no further than your kitchen. Thus you can pick and consume them when they are at their peak of flavor, freshness, and nutrition.
Planting and cultivating a vegetable garden is a great way to get fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. It takes physical exertion to create a garden — physical exertion that exercises the muscles, increases the heart-rate, limbers up the joints, and fills lungs with fresh outside air. Now tell me again how much fun you’re having in your cramped and crowded health club. Besides, the money you’d spend on seed, soil, fertilizer, tolls, etc. has to be a lot lest than your monthly membership fees.
Vegetable gardening is gentler to our air, land, and water. Those chemical pesticides I mentioned earlier not only can be ingested by you on the crops themselves, but also contaminate the air and land around us and the lakes, streams, and groundwater beneath us, with devastating effects. Malathion, for example, is highly toxic to fish and bees. Permethrin is poisonous to cats and fish. Yet commercial growers still use these and many other chemical pesticides.
Maybe you can’t stop commercial growers from using these chemicals, but you don’t have to contribute to the chemical mix. If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, and you choose to do so without the use of these substances, then in some small way, you are contributing to the health of the air, land, and water around you and the vertebrate and invertebrate species that share it with us.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is much more work than just buying them at the supermarket. But it’s a good kind of work, one that benefits you, your family, and the world around you.