Taking the

By Suzanne DeJohn

Raise your hand if you've ever wolfed down a "super-sized" box of fries while driving, barely recognizing that you've eaten them until you reach for more and they're gone? That's more than 600 calories, about a third of the daily requirement, but negligible in the nutrient department. According to the Agricultural Research Service Web site, every day about one-fourth of U.S. adults eat fast food. We've truly become a fast-food nation. But why are so many of us willing to sacrifice quality for speed; salt, fat, and sugar for real taste? For many of us, the answer is easy: Because we're busy.

But what are we so busy doing? In previous generations, people were busy, too. Much of their time was spent growing, harvesting, preparing, and preserving food. Now we've handed those tasks over to others so that we can __ what? Each of us can fill in that blank in our own way. But what do we lose as individuals and as a culture when nourishing our bodies takes a back seat?

After all, food isn't only a source of energy for our bodies. It's also a connection to the earth that sustains us. It's a reflection of the history and culture of a region, and a means by which families and friends gather and share. Growing crops, preparing food, and breaking bread together have been at the center of civilizations for millennia.

How can we, with our busy lives, reconnect with this fundamental part of our existence? Realistically, we can't grow all our own food. However, there are ways to begin to take more control and reclaim our connection to the foods that nourish us. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Plant a garden, even if it's just a few tomato plants in containers. Harvesting fresh foods is a small but important gesture connecting you to your ancestors. Better yet, invite your child to plant and harvest with you; you'll be cultivating a future gardener along with your vegetables.
  2. Support local farmers. At grocery stores, farmers' markets, and roadside stands, ask where the food was grown. When a fruit or vegetable is in season in your region, seek local sources. Buy from your local farmer, and that farmer will, in turn, buy from the local feed store, which then might sponsor your child's baseball team, and so on.
  3. Enjoy what's in season. Now that you can buy strawberries in January, some of the thrill of that first ripe June strawberry is lost. Many people have never tasted a fresh-picked, sun-warmed, juicy strawberry. The same with other seasonal favorites: asparagus, tomatoes, peaches, and sweet corn come to mind. Off-season substitutes may be available year-round, but the taste and nutritional content can't compare.
  4. Slow down-at least a little. There are cooking shows, books, and Web sites devoted to easy-to-prepare, nutritious meals. Vow to cook one homemade meal a week using the freshest foods you can find.
  5. Share the wealth. Donate the extra produce from your garden to your local food shelf. Fresh, healthful food is always needed. By growing and sharing your own produce and supporting local farmers, you'll tap into a trend that's both new and thousands of years old.

Food Aid

The recent hurricane disasters highlight the reality of food shortage in our land of plenty. Local food banks in many regions of the country are experiencing shortages, not just in the areas hardest hit. Visit these Web sites to find out how you can help.

Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR). A program of the Garden Writers Association, PAR encourages gardeners to plant one extra row of vegetables and donate their sur-plus to local food banks and soup kitchens. If you are planting a fall garden, plant extra. If you are harvesting, donate as much as you can. For more information, visit the PAR Web site.

Oxfam's Fast for a World Harvest. On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, skip a meal or fast for the day to remember the more than 850 million people who are hungry, then contribute the money you saved to Oxfam. Host a Hunger Banquet or get your school or community involved. For more information, visit: the Oxfam America Web site.

Second Harvest. This network includes more than 200 food banks and food-rescue organizations, serving every county in the U.S. To find a food shelf near you, visit America's Second Harvest.

This article originally appeared in Growing Ideas, a quarterly print publication free to NGA Supporters. To sign up for a six-month (two-issue) trial subscription, click here. To download a sample issue, click here.

This article originally appeared in NGA's print quarterly, Growing Ideas. This newsletter features projects, profiles, and tips that address topics of interest to home, school, and community gardeners. Growing Ideas is mailed free to paid Supporters of NGA. Sign up for a free 6-month trial subscription (two issues).

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