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Start planning a garden for next year

September 20, 2011|By JEFF SEMLER | jsemler@umd.edu
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Food is constantly in the news these days. You pick up a newspaper or watch a news show and in any given week there will be a food-related story. It might be about dry weather somewhere, or about obesity, but food, its production or consumption are at the forefront.

How would you like to reduce air pollution, recycle your money in your own community, support local farmers and enjoy food that tastes better?

The answer is right under your nose; buy locally grown food.

In addition to being fresher and thus tasting better, you can avoid processed foods that often have added fat, sugar and preservatives.

According to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, “Behind each calorie of food in the typical American diet stands seven to 10 calories of fossil fuel energy.” Some is in the form of production but most is found in the processing and transportation.

Chad Heeter, in his book “My Saudi Arabian Breakfast,” breaks it down this way: “Food’s fossil fuel consumption is 20 percent consumed on the farm; 40 percent burned up in processing, packaging and shipping; and another 40 percent is used to store and prepare the food.”

What can you do? First, start somewhere. Look for locally produced food outlets like farmers markets, roadside stands or supermarkets that sell local products. Second, do it now, while the season is winding down. There are still plenty of opportunities for buying local produce.

I am an “everything in moderation” kind of guy, so ease into buying local food. Every week, replace a food with a local product. Once you have eased in, try preserving. Drying and freezing are easy methods. Most fruits and some vegetables can be preserved in this manner.

Start planning now for next year. Expand your garden or start a small one if you don’t have one. Sit in the warm glow of your home this winter and enjoy the abundance of seed catalogs from which you can shop. Remember, moderation. Don’t plant a garden that is so big it becomes a burden. If it is your first time, try a potted tomato or a small container garden.

You can also join a Community Supported Agriculture group. A CSA is a member-supported farm in which you buy shares and your shares are returned to you in the form of produce. You can also connect with or start a community garden. This can be on public land or maybe you can share your backyard.

Also, think like a squirrel. Seek out foods that keep well, such as nuts, honey, winter squash, some apple varieties, potatoes and sweet potatoes. and stock up.  If you don’t have a cool place to store them, make you own “root cellar” by digging a hole and using straw as an insulator.

Lastly, you can double your recipes. Some call it mega cooking. Really, it is just cooking more than needed for one meal and freezing it for a second meal. Unlike leftovers, this is a purposeful act — more than one dish and sometimes only partially cooked.

So, enjoy the fall harvest. Pick up some apples or other produce, and if you are feeling really brave, buy a pumpkin and make a pie, not a jack-o-lantern.

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 at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at jsemler@umd.edu.



 

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