Gardening for health

I woke up early a few Saturdays ago to an episode of the Splendid Table radio show. The show featured an interview with Chef Dan Barber of the Row 7 seed company, which describes itself as “a seed company grounded in the notion that deliciousness might just change the world.” I’m always inspired when flavorful food intersects with high-quality nutrition.

Over the past many decades, seeds have been developed to prioritize yield, shelf life, and uniformity at the expense of flavor and nutrition. The people behind Row 7 decided to change that and focus on breeding seeds that produce the most flavorful vegetables. Interestingly, the vegetables with the best, most complex flavor, also have the highest nutrient content. Nature always knows best!

Most of us are also aware that we get better nutrition from vegetables that have been harvested locally, prepared and eaten as close to the harvest date as possible. The more vegetables sit, the more the nutrients in them break down. You get much better nutrition from something you harvested in your back yard the same day as you eat it, than from something that has been driven across the country and left in the produce aisle for a week, then in your refrigerator for another week. Of course, if you can’t grow your own food, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) baskets, farmer’s markets, and local produce from your coop are all good compromises.

The other variable, of course, is how the vegetables are grown. Are they organic? Are they non-GMO? Herbicides and pesticides are used heavily on most commercial crops, especially GMO crops. The biggest concern for our health is the exposure to these toxic chemicals via the residue left behind on these vegetables. This article about the “dirty dozen” is helpful to understand how these harmful chemicals affect our bodies. Growing your own food and buying organic as much as you can is the best way to avoid these toxic chemicals.

I was having a planning discussion about this issue of the newsletter with my editor, Laura Weber, who also happens to be the editor of Minnesota History, the magazine published by the Minnesota Historical Society. When I mentioned the story of Row 7 and that gardening season is upon us, she shared the article Homecroft City: The “Duluth Idea” in the Progressive Conservation Movement, by Eric Boime, which is in the current (Spring 2019) issue of Minnesota History.

The article is an interesting glimpse into Duluth’s history during the early 20th century. George Maxwell, a lobbyist, began The American Homecroft Society to encourage people to grow their own food on land adjacent to their homes (a homecroft), to ensure that they have enough to eat, to save money, and to cope with the effects of industrialization. He selected Duluth, which was already promoting homecrofts, as the model homecroft city and moved the national headquarters there.

“Maxwell proffered homecrofts as the antidote to major crises confronting urban America. In addition to mending industrial workers’ severed relationship with nature, homes that incorporated spaces for production, to Maxwell’s mind, granted working-class families autonomy and supplemental income in a volatile market.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the homecroft movement, and what happened to it, I recommend reading the article. In addition to learning more about Duluth’s history, I walked away from the article being reminded how empowering gardening can be not only for your finances, but for your health. It gives you control over what you’re growing and eating, it improves your nutrition, it reconnects you with nature, and it is a good source of gentle exercise.

It appears that this long, challenging winter is finally over, and it’s safe to plan your garden. I suggest making room for some seeds from Row 7. if you do, please let me know how it goes!