When it comes to eating “local,” I believe the ultimate experience comes when you sit down to a meal prepared with food that you have raised. There is something so satisfying about pinching off tender leaves of lettuce and presenting them in a salad to the family.
I like to play the game where I estimate how much the meal would cost if I we were eating out. I think my husband is getting tired of this, yet I like to remind him how frugal and clever I am. And then I remind him that we are healthier because I labored to grow some of our food.
A dollar’s worth of Mesclun Salad Mix (my favorite) seed will easily provide me with $20 worth of fresh greens that didn’t need to travel from California. They will be spared being picked by a machine and stored in climate-controlled environment for two weeks. My leafy greens will be harvested with a tender touch, go for a quick dip in the sink, and be dried by grandma’s embroidered dish towel.
I was blessed with parents who loved to garden. They taught by example. They prepared the soil and we buried the seeds. Not too hard. But if you have never observed the process, the idea of planting a garden may be daunting.
In 1973, Senator James Allen of Alabama believed that people receiving food stamps could stretch their food dollars if they could grow some of their own food. He proposed an amendment to the Food Stamp Act that would allow recipients to purchase vegetable seeds and plants for personal food production. It passed on a voice vote and was included in the 1973 Farm Bill.
It’s been almost forty years since the amendment was passed, and little has been done to promote the use of food stamps (SNAP/LINK) for buying vegetable seeds. Last year a website was developed to promote gardening with food stamps. At SNAPgardens.org there are toolkits to help SNAP participants and local governments advance the cause.
Encouraging SNAP recipients to use their LINK card to purchase seeds and plants is a beginning. But as the Chinese proverb goes, learning how to garden and how to use fresh vegetables is another story! Where do we begin?
“Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for a life.”
Carol Erickson is a member of the Local Foods Work Group of the University of Illinois Extension in Winnebago County. She works for Extension in the field of SNAP education, teaching community members how to prepare and cook healthy and nutritious food for themselves and their families. She blogs about local foods at blogs.e-rockford.com/gogreen.