Even avid label readers aren’t always sure what product claims actually mean. “Sugar free” isn’t the same as unsweetened, and “all natural” usually isn’t. Don’t even start with low fat. The list of artificial ingredients added to make up for its removal is usually long.
Add to that growing concerns over GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics and other questionable farming practices, and it can all result in food frustration. But instead of throwing in the towel, more and more health-conscious moms are throwing out processed foods and growing their own fruits and veggies.
“Everything I read leads me to lean toward as natural foods as possible,” says Dena Kline, Houston mother of two. “Sometimes my budget isn’t up for all organic—our local farmer’s market is pretty pricey—so I grow some and buy what is reasonable.”
Kline focuses on the vegetables her family likes most in her urban garden, and says she has the best luck with sweet potatoes, asparagus, peppers, okra and fresh herbs.
As in most gardens, what grows varies from year to year and is dependent on weather and soil conditions. “We have to plant early here,” she says. “Houston summers are too hot. I tried one winter garden and we had an early freeze that year. I’d like to try again.”
While Kline doesn’t have much luck with strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, she continues to try. “I plant them every year and they either die or the mockingbirds eat them,” she says.
There are a variety of reasons that the number of edible gardens has been on the rise in the past few years. Aside from knowing exactly what you’re eating and how it was grown, there is an economic advantage to growing your own food, as well as a sense of accomplishment.
“Initial start up can seem expensive, but it will average out,” says Mallory Feazle, who gardens in rural Mt. Vernon, Ill. “Unfortunately, food does not grow in the grocery store, and the American farmer is a dying breed. Individuals should know how to grow their own food for self-sufficiency purposes and not be so reliant on non-sustainable farming methods.”
Feazle has fond memories of helping her own mother garden while growing up in Oklahoma. Now the mother of 2-year-old Mary, she says her garden, a combination of raised containers and a large fenced plot, is also a family affair that provides unique opportunities for together time and teaching moments.
“Mary regularly sows, maintains and reaps—sometimes prematurely,” Feazle says. “She’ll swipe a grape tomato from the vine and eat it on the spot, all while inadvertently learning about plant biology and pollination.”
When last summer’s squash was blooming, the two took cotton swabs and touched the male pollen with the female stigma to help it grow.
“It was a great, early lesson on reproductive science,” Feazle says with a laugh.
Last year, her garden produced enough lettuces, onions, peppers, tomatoes and other herbs and veggies to share with the community.
“There was no way we could eat it all,” Feazle said.
Other gardeners prefer to keep the effort more of a solo affair, taking advantage of alone time for meditation and outdoor exercise. Such is the case for Kline.
“The garden is my project,” says Kline. “My son associates the garden with weeding for punishment. Fortunately for me, he weeds a lot.”
The good news for wanna-be gardeners is that the practice is not limited to those living on sprawling rural acreage. Sure, the extra space makes large gardens easier, but kitchen gardens and backyard container gardens in urban settings, as well as a growing number of community gardens in downtown locations, mean even city dwellers can take food from the garden to the dinner table.
By // Stacy Barry