Another sign of the rise of the grow-your-own-food movement arrived in my mailbox today: I got a seed catalog — for vegetables, in June.
The Territorial Seed winter catalog includes dozens of varieties of vegetables to grow in greenhouses, hoop-houses or other season-extending apparatus. As you might expect, the catalog leans toward cool-weather crops: beets, greens, peas, cabbage, and cauliflower as well as a few varieties of greenhouse tomatoes. It also includes books on growing your own food and canning and other food-preservation equipment.
“The winter garden is the key to year-round food security,” says Tom Johns, the company president in a letter in the catalog. I don’t remember ever getting a vegetable catalog at this time of year, though Johns’ letter says that the company has promoted winter gardening as part of its goal of “improving people’s self-sufficiency” for 30 year.
The catalog speaks to the public’s increasing anxiety about food cost and food safety. According to a Gallup/USA Today poll last year, 73 percent of Americans are concerned about rising food cost and an industry survey this year indicates that a similar percentage of people are worried about food safety. Admittedly, that survey came on the heels of the peanut butter recall — but the concern about food safety makes some sense. A generation ago, most people ate most meals at home, made from scratch — by someone who loved them. (Thanks for all that cooking, Mom!) Now people eat out more and eat more highly processed foods. The result is more opportunities for contamination from more sources.
Can we garden our way to food safety and security? Like some of my fellow garden bloggers, I’m dubious that people are turning to gardening out of fear of the economy or food-borne illness. New gardeners typically spend more than they save. And the idea that “the big one” is coming and we’ll all be back to living off the land doesn’t strike me as a positive reason to take up gardening. While some gardeners can grow a significant part of their own food, that requires skills in food preservation as well as gardening — and it helps if you live in Zone 6 or higher.
But growing some vegetables — no matter where you live or how many you grow — will increase the nutrients you get from your food and it will remarkably increase your enjoyment of it. Nothing is as wonderful as tomato and green bean salad from the garden or a big batch of pesto you made. Just picked raspberries — wow! A melon from your patch — amazing. Gardening also helps you learn new skills, understand nature better, and it gets your eyes off of screens and gives your body some fresh air. Those are great reasons to garden — no matter what the time of year.