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Make time to plant a kitchen garden

December 28, 2009|By JEFF SEMLER

"Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" is the U. S. Department of Agriculture's campaign aimed at helping average consumers reconnect with their food.

None of the items that have graced your table recently just magically appeared. They are the result of a labor of love in many cases.

Your food is grown and not produced.

Yes, many of these items are refined or further processed. For example, the cheese and spinach you might have used to make a holiday dip didn't magically appear. The cheese was a result of cultures, shaping and aging. The spinach was at least washed, or maybe chopped and frozen.

Author Gene Logsdon tells us in his book "All Flesh is Grass" that all food, and by extension, all flesh, traces back to the soil.

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If you wish to take him literally, most of our foods are not in the grass family, but more are than you might think.

Look through your pantry and discover the great number of foods that contain corn, wheat, barley, rye or oats. All these cereal grains are grasses.

I know many of you are interested in locally grown foods. This is validated by the 2010 Policy Choices Survey conducted by the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy, which shows that 78 percent of Marylanders are more likely to buy produce that is identified as having been grown by a Maryland farmer.

Further supporting agriculture, a full 94 percent of those surveyed said it is at least "somewhat important" that the state preserve land for farming.

Compared with last year's survey, the results showed steady support for Maryland agriculture. Additionally, the survey revealed increased understanding that growth and development, and residential runoff are major threats to the Chesapeake Bay.

You can also take another step to knowing your farmer by becoming one at least on a small scale. Plant a kitchen garden this spring. It doesn't have to be large. It can be as small as a few pots of herbs or a couple of tomato plants.

Anne Raver, in her column titled "Out of the Yard and Onto the Fork," published in The New York Times, states "Kitchen gardens are as old as the first hunter-gatherers who decided to settle down and watch the seeds grow."

You recall that first lady Michelle Obama had the White House staff plant a garden this year. But she was not the first. John Adams planted a vegetable garden at the White House to feed his family.

"Because back then, presidents had to fund their own household," said Rose Hayden-Smith, a historian and garden educator based at the University of California, Davis.

Take this downtime during the winter and browse seed catalogs, Web blogs or Internet gardening sites. This is a great way to develop and refine your ideas.

Then when spring arrives, you will be ready with a plan of attack. In addition to producing some of your own food, you will develop an appreciation for what it takes to till the soil and wait on its bounty.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu.

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