It's a vicious cycle.
Food that travels long distances to reach our plates uses up precious fuel. As fuel prices rise, so does the cost of those California strawberries and Central American asparagus. If the food has been processed, that is, pre-cooked and packaged as simply heat-and-eat products and marketed toward our need for convenience, the prices are even higher. And the more we demand those products through our purchasing, the more that gets shipped to us and the more fuel is being used.
We poke a few holes in a plastic bag and stick it in the microwave to get ''fresh'' steamed vegetables. We open a can of corn that was produced in mass quantities in stainless-steel factories. Fifty years ago, homemakers knew what would be plentiful during which time of the year. Today, few people even know what the real season is for most vegetables. They don't realize that lettuce, spinach and broccoli are cool weather crops that are best during the spring and fall. They don't know that asparagus season is only three to six weeks in May and June in our area and that tomatoes don't really come into their own until mid-July.
Amazingly enough, some children today don’t realize that potatoes actually have a plant part that grows above the ground. The part we eat, the tuber, is deep in the soil and is perfectly safe, but the leafy plant should never been eaten. The plant is a member of the toxic nightshade family and includes tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Soil should be pulled up around the stems of the potato plant as it grows so that branches beneath the soil can continue to produce layers of potatoes.
And why should they? They can go into the grocery store and get these things all year, including the middle of January when the snow is a foot deep and everything outside is covered with ice.
While most local farmers markets don't start showing up until July in our neck of the woods, for the past month or more, we've been able to stop at roadside produce stands, even though the produce they sell couldn't possibly have come from local farmers. It does, however, come from large shipments of cargoed food delivered to the docks in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, having traveled from faraway places. If you want to know where your food came from, you can estimate that it takes about three months from germination to harvest and count backwards to what location has the best climate to have produced those vegetables. In most cases, much of our fresh produce arrives to us from Central and South America, Florida and California. That's a lot of fuel.
But those bananas we slice up in our cereal are hard to pass up. Our short growing season and hard winters make it virtually impossible to be true local eaters, unless we spend weeks at the end of each summer canning and preserving what we grow or buy locally. This is not feasible for most busy people. Simply buying food from local growers when it is in season still will save a great deal compared to what it takes to ship that same product across the country, even if it's only for three months.
When local produce is in season
Community gardens, reminiscent of the World War I and II ''war gardens,'' also known as Victory Gardens, are cropping up throughout many communities. Howland has a program for its residents, as does Warren. Garden plots are quickly being reserved by citizens who want to grow their own food. People who never gave a thought before to growing a tomato are scratching up a bit of earth and putting in a plant or two. No one can deny the taste of a fresh, homegrown tomato.
For this reason, we have looked at when local food is available in our area. By following the attached chart, which you can cut out and save for future reference, you can tell when to expect your favorite garden vegetables and fruits. The list is not all-inclusive, of course, and many of the vegetables listed continue to be available throughout the season and not just during the month they are first available. For example: asparagus, as previously mentioned, is only available locally in late April and through June, but once the beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers appear, you can expect to be able to buy these local vegetables until the plants succumb to fall frost.
Over the summer, How Does Your Garden Grow will examine the benefits of growing our own vegetables, not only for fun, but for health's sake too. But we won't stop there. We will also look into beautifying our landscapes with perennial and annual flower gardens, growing herbs for kitchen and ornamental uses as well as innovative ways to use what we grow.
In addition, we are bringing back the annual Tribune Chronicle and Trumbull County Master Gardener Amateur Flower Garden contest for those avid gardeners in our communities. Entry forms will be available in the Tribune Chronicle, and the deadline to enter is June 30. We wouldn't be opposed to the idea of sticking a few vegetables and herbs among the flowers to create a multi-tasking garden.