Vegetables straight from the garden have a much different flavour than those that are mass produced, packaged, stored and shipped to market.
If the availability and cost were the same, people will choose garden fresh every time. Cost, land and availability play a big role in what people eat.
With summer slowly approaching, it is time to decide where to purchase in-season fruits and vegetables.
Garden plots are available in most urban areas. Municipalities often have a number of plots that they rent out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Another alternative is to look for acreage owners or farmers who rent plots. Private plots may or may not be advertised. Often local garden centres or garden club members can point in the correct direction.
When renting a plot, ask what the person or municipality provides. Is there water readily available? Do they work in organic matter or is that up to the plot holder? What is the size and cost? When will the land be ready to plant? How do they deal with weedy plots. Is there a deadline on removing the produce in the fall? Are chemicals allowed?
First-time gardeners should ask if there is a mentor program, although most gardeners are willing to help and teach others who want to do the work and learn.
If possible, talk to another person who has gardened on the plot to see if the rules are followed and how well the crops grew last season. Weeds that were allowed to go to seed mean there will be plenty of weeding to be done this season.
Novice gardeners might want to join a community garden where everyone works together to make one large garden. There are assigned nights for working in the garden and for harvesting the produce. In this case, everyone shares equally. As the season progresses, there is usually more produce than people can eat fresh.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) takes the financial risk out of the gardener’s hands and shares it will people who want fresh produce. It in turn guarantees its members fresh produce all season, if the season is good. If there is crop failure, it is also shared with the participants.
The cost of joining a CSA garden varies, as does the produce and what is expected of the participants. For the most part, people receive a basket of food once a week from the start to end of the growing season. The size of basket depends on the contract, as well as how the garden is growing. Operations will either deliver the produce or expect it picked up at the garden gate.
Putting in hours working in the garden may be mandatory or on a volunteer basis. It depends on the operation.
Before signing onto a CSA, find out what produce is being planted. Are small fruits such as raspberries and strawberries included? Are the vegetables cleaned before they are placed in the baskets?
Don’t wait too long to sign up for CSA baskets as the numbers are limited to the amount of produce they can supply.
You-pick gardens are an option that allows the public to go out into the garden and harvest their own produce. You-picks are usually less expensive than farmers’ markets but it takes time.
Fresh produce is always a strong draw at farmers’ markets. Growers use tunnels and have product available before most home owners. As there are a number of stalls at the market, customers can make choices about quality and price. The way to pick a good stall is to go to the booth with the longest line. A bit of planning now will ensure that fresh produce is on the table next summer.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.