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Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
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Why Grow Vegetables?

By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor, University of Vermont

If you already grow some vegetables, or buy fresh local ones, you know the
much- improved flavor over ones shipped from afar.  In addition to better
flavor, some of the reasons gardeners cite for growing their own vegetables
include better health, food safety, saving money, helping the environment, and
having a better quality of life.
      
Fresh Tastes Better

Changes continue to be made in both varieties of vegetables and their
post-harvest handling, resulting in improved flavors than in older varieties
and past years.  Yet if you've tasted fresh produce compared to that in stores or
frozen, you don't need research to tell you the difference in flavor.  Nutritional
quality of vegetables is generally higher as well when freshly harvested.
      
You'll Eat More When You Grow Your Own Vegetables

By growing your own vegetables you may end up eating more, which is good
for the health of most.  Research continues to show that those who eat more
fruits and vegetables are less likely to have chronic diseases such as strokes
and cancers.  

You can get vitamins and minerals from supplements, but produce contains
other natural compounds (such as anti-oxidants to help prevent cancers) as
well that may help protect you from chronic disease.  Research shows too that
most don't eat enough of these each day.  There is a fun and
quick calculator
online from the government to figure what is best for you.
      
Home Grown is Safer

You don't have to think too far back to recall food safety scares, such as those
on peppers and spinach.  You may not realize that pesticide residues remain
on some crops you buy in stores, some more than others.  These have been
ranked from tens of thousands of USDA and FDA studies between 2000 and
2007.  

By avoiding the top 12 on this list, the "Dirty Dozen", an estimate is that you
can reduce your exposure to pesticides on food by 80 percent.  Those
vegetables on this list you may want to grow yourself (or buy locally or
organically) include bell peppers, celery, potatoes and spinach.  (By the way,
fruits on this list are apples, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches,
pears, red raspberries, and strawberries).
      
You'll Save Money Growing a Vegetable Garden

So how much money can you save growing your own vegetables?  Some
calculations by the
National Gardening Association in 2009  showed that a
general, national estimate was that for investing $70 in seeds and supplies you
could grow 350 pounds of vegetables worth about $600.

So you would save, for an average 600 square foot garden, over $500.  Of
course this figure may vary up or down depending on your own area, season,
vegetables grown, and other variables.
      
Helps Save the Environment

Growing your own vegetables helps the environment in at least a couple of
ways. Non-local but domestic produce we buy in stores travels
an average
1500 miles or more.  Produce from other countries obviously travels even
farther.  This shipping and transport burns fossil fuels, which produces
greenhouse gases that increase global warming.  So buying local, or growing
your own produce, reduces these effects.
      
Another environmental benefit from your own production is the ability to
produce relatively small amounts, with little or no pesticides and synthetic
chemicals.  Farms, even small ones, often use these with some ending up
staying in soils or washing into waterways. Even organic farms often use
plastics and fossil fuels for tractors, items you can avoid in a small home
garden. If you can't produce some or all the vegetables you'd like, at least
buying local and organically will have better environmental and economic
impacts.
      
Better Quality of Life

In addition to the tangible benefits of growing your own vegetables and fruits
is the intangible benefit of a better quality of life.  If you garden you know its
stress-relieving qualities and health benefits from exercise.  There is the taste
pleasure of sampling the fruits of your labor, fresh off the plant, as you work.  

There is the visual pleasure of a well-laid out and maintained garden.  In a
chaotic world where you may not have much control over events, a garden and
landscape can provide you that sense of order (as long as you don't get too
large too quick, with your garden out of control).
      
Community Gardening

If your garden isn't at home or on your own property, it may be at one of the
over a million community gardens across the country.  If you'd like to start
gardening, and need such a space, you can likely find one from online:
Community Garden.org.  Although such gardens lack the convenience of being
on your property, if you don't have the space they make gardening possible.  
They allow interaction with other gardeners, including swapping of seeds to
fruits to knowledge.  Such gardens may be part of larger beautification and
development projects, and in cities often result in a reduction in crime.
      
Convinced to start a vegetable garden yet?  Even if you already have one, you
should benefit from information at local garden stores, some of the many
books, and websites including those of state Extension services.  Watch your
local newspaper, too, for gardening events such as classes and workshops.