Every couple of years our family takes a road trip back to Indiana to see my mother-in-law. We often get off the freeway and see the sights, or just enjoy the scenery as we go.
As a gardener, of course I'm interested in what other people have in their gardens. One thing that has often struck me as we pass through ranch country and then Midwest farm country is the decided lack of visible vegetable gardens.
Maybe it's just the areas we pass through. Or maybe the farmers and ranchers are incredibly busy people. Or maybe it's an unfortunate trend. But when I see a house sitting in the middle of the sagebrush with nothing around it but a patch of lawn and no hint anywhere of food growing up around it, I have to wonder why. Is it really cost-effective to drive all the way to the nearest store, which looks to be an hour or so away at least, to get everything that the ranchers and their help eat? Having not been raised on a South Dakota ranch, I'm in no position to make a definitive statement on that. But I have to wonder, especially now with rising gas prices.
My grandmother spent part of her formative years on a potato farm in the bustling town of Tule Lake, California (just across the Oregon border from Klamath Falls). She grew up with gardening as a part of her life, and every year up until her 90's, she planted a vegetable garden. My parents grew up with victory gardens, during the war years when growing and preserving food was a patriotic act. When I was a kid, my parents grew and preserved corn, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries, and lots of other produce, and we went to orchards to pick fruit for canning. This was such an integral part of my life that it seemed odd to me as I grew up to find that there were other people in the world who didn't grow so much as a parsley sprig or a strawberry that's worth eating.
We've gotten so used to perfect produce shipped from thousands of miles away that it no longer seems strange to see seasonal produce in the supermarkets all year long. But as gas prices continue to skyrocket, transportation costs for imported produce are increasing, which means the cost of the produce will increase along with it.
But it doesn't take a lot of gas and money to put fresh produce on our tables, not for people who have even a small patch of sunny earth to call their own. Along with other gardeners, I'm wondering if increases in fuel prices and resulting increases in food costs will spur a new gardening revival. So long as people are sensible about their gardening practices, and don't go to the extremes described in The $64 Tomato, growing some of your own food can help offset the rising grocery bill.
If you don't have a suitable spot for a vegetable patch, or don't have the time for a vegetable garden, buying locally-grown produce is a great alternative. Check out the 100 mile diet site, a terrific resource for people who want to buy their food from local growers and producers. The idea is to buy food that is grown within 100 miles of your home. That may sound like a long distance, but it's a whole lot better than the of 1,500 miles that the average food item travels from farm to plate -- and produce imported in the winter travels a whole lot farther than that.
How easy it is to go on the 100 mile diet may depend on where people live. Where I live there are lots of fruit farms and a handful of independent meat markets, as well as lots of fruit stands. It's not hard to find peaches, pears, cherries, blueberries, and other fruit for freezing and canning, and locally-grown meats at reasonable prices. Big cities often have farmer's markets where city folk can find farm-fresh produce. But while my mother-in-law can buy fresh corn in season in her area of Indiana, fruit farms are far scarcer than they are where I live.
If we all do what we can -- grow what we can, and buy what we can locally -- we can all make a contribution to fuel conservation.