Much to gain from cultivating a green thumb
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This was a milestone week in our household. We put carrots on the grocery list for the first time in eight months.
Just to be clear, carrots are a staple vegetable for us, and we’ve been eating our fair share. Until this week however, we’ve been eating the carrots we grew in last summer’s garden.
It’s kind of the opposite of Food Freedom Day, the day in February when the average household has earned enough to buy a full year’s worth of groceries. By growing and storing some of our own vegetables, we’ve had the option of not buying as many, or at least using our grocery dollar differently.
Not buying our root vegetables has made it a little less painful to splurge on that $7.99 Romaine lettuce we like in a caesar salad with pizza on a Friday night. It’s hard to find anyone these days who isn’t experiencing sticker shock after a trip to the grocery store. Although the pace of food inflation has slowed, it continues to take a big bite out of family budgets.
While less than two per cent of Canadian gardeners grow all of their own vegetables, growing some and saving a little on the grocery bill is one of the many reasons the traditional kitchen garden is making a comeback.
It started during the first year of the pandemic lockdowns, when almost one in five Canadians took up gardening as a way to fill some of the extra time they had being stuck at home. They were also looking for ways to ease some of the anxiety many of us felt at the sporadic sight of empty grocery store shelves.
When the Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University surveyed Canadians in 2020 about why they were taking up gardening, many cited worries about food availability and inflation.
Of the people who gardened, 96 per cent ate their produce fresh, nearly 53 per cent shared with family and friends and 50 per cent preserved or stored it for later use. Another interesting finding was that 77 per cent of those who preserved their harvest had learned how from another family member. So the benefits of gardening can reach multiple households with multi-generational effects.
When the lab followed up with a second survey in 2022, food prices had indeed surged and interest in home gardening had continued to grow. The percentage of gardeners had risen just one point to 52 per cent, but another eight per cent of those surveyed said they intended to start gardening for the first time in 2022 and 46 per cent of those respondents were under 34.
Three-quarters of gardeners saw it as an enjoyable hobby, nearly half believed the quality of food is better, and 41 per cent were trying to save money.
One wonderful thing about gardening is you don’t need a lot of space. A few container pots are a great way to start. It’s something the whole family can enjoy; there’s many a small child who has learned green beans aren’t icky at all when they’re eaten fresh off a growing plant.
The thing I like about it the most is that you don’t have to be good at it to be successful. I’m full of good intentions every spring but slowly lose the battle against weeds through the summer. To those I catch trying not to stare at the tangled-up jungle behind the garage, I say my garden is like my life: diverse and messy.
We’re still leaving potatoes, parsnips and garlic off our grocery list. We’ve recently learned that the bland stored parsnip tastes pretty good when coated with olive oil and garlic and roasted with store-bought brussels sprouts before being drizzled with a bit of maple syrup.
Mind you, what doesn’t taste good after being drizzled with maple syrup?
A word of warning though. Growing some of your own food changes you irreversibly. You might catch yourself eating more vegetables, experimenting with new recipes and thumbing your nose at the grocery chain moguls.
Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at email@example.com
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.