shopping in the garden

It’s peak vegetable season and the garden is a jungle–in a good way.  I wish I had more time for weeding, harvesting, and processing, especially leisurely weeding, harvesting, and processing.

It is such a treat, though, to go grocery shopping in our garden–to harvest big bags of lettuce, beets, carrots, green beans, kale, chard, basil, zucchini, and more.  We rarely go to the farmers’ market any more, although we could always stand stocking up on local meats, cheese, and fruits.

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping an eye on our food expenditures.  In The Omnivore’s Dilemma and some of his later books, Michael Pollan writes about how little Americans actually spend on food these days.  In fact, he has a remarkable stat on the inverse relationship between food spending and health care spending.  I’m going to screw up the exact numbers here, but something like 50 years ago, we spent twice as much on food as we did on health care.  Now we spend twice as much on health care as we do on food.  Pollan concludes that if we did spend more money on better and healthier food, we might not need to spend so much on health insurance, medicine, procedures, and the like.

In watching our annual budgets, I’ve noticed that our food bills have barely budged over the last five years.  They have gone up a bit, probably on the order of inflation each year.  But considering that food prices have increased dramatically since around 2008 due to the global economic crisis, more agricultural land being used to produce biofuels, the global land grab (http://socialsciences.cornell.edu/land-theme-project/), and other factors, it’s pretty remarkable that our food bills haven’t gone up significantly. 

A major contributor is a big garden–first two plots at the community garden and then a big garden (48′ by 48′) on The Land beginning in 2011.  We now produce more fresh produce than we can possibly eat between late spring and late fall.  That means garden processing: freezing, canning, pickling, drying.  Our savings have therefore become year-round: we buy little fresh produce except between December and May, and even then we rely primarily on frozen green beans, chard, and kale; potatoes that generally keep until around Valentine’s day; garlic, which, if properly dried, can keep for more than a year; and carrots that are good in the fridge for several months.  We also tap into reserves of spaghetti sauce, salsa, chile sauce (homemade ketchup), several kinds of pickles and chutneys, and jam (all of which we can) and many bags of pesto (which we freeze).

Financial savings is part of the point, but it’s also growing organic food and being less dependent on corporate, industrial agriculture.  In short, it’s about food politics.

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