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Diabetes Diet

G is for Gardening

Eating locally grown food must be better for our health than eating the dead stuff flown in from thousands of miles away that crams our supermarkets. It’s especially important for those of us who have diabetes and are therefore most concerned with good nutrition. But it’s not easy to do.

I’ve tried to eat more locally grown food, as I wrote here most recently at “Why and How to Eat Local.” Since then, I have kept following up with the manager of the local Whole Foods Market as well as other community leaders.

But even now as summer approaches, we have little locally grown food in our markets. The farmers markets have more and more every week, but not enough to prepare three full meals a day.

So it’s up to me to do a little better. I’m starting to garden. How local can you get?

I have to be clear about two things:

  1. I have next to no experience with gardening. The closest I ever came was when I was in charge of the compost heap at the group house I lived at a quarter of a century ago.
  2. I am not doing this alone. I am helping to start a community garden near where I live.

Five of my neighbors and I are meeting as the “Tantra Park Community Garden Organizing Committee.” Tantra is the name of the part of Boulder where we live, and has nothing to do with sex, as in tantric sex (as far as theyve told me).

We’ve already connected with Growing Gardens of Boulder County, a member of the American Community Gardening Association. The association links hundreds of other local groups, so there is probably one near you.

We are planning to join with more of our neighbors to have 20 or 30 plots, each about 10′ by 10′. The first requirement, says Community Gardens Coordinator Annie Sweeney, is city approval. That’s especially important since we plan the plots to be on the nearby Tantra Park land.

The startup cost of about $10,000 was my biggest surprise. But Annie says that her organization is prepared to help with developing donations and grants. The cost per year for each of us plotters will be more in the neighborhood of $90. That’s little enough, considering how much we can save on our grocery bill.

Gardening is one of the keystones of eating local, which has become the latest movement, going well beyond eating organic. People who get most of their food from within 100 miles or so of their home already have a name: locavores. So writes Marian Burros in the April 25 issue of The New York Times.

In that article she mentions several recent books on the subject, including one by best-selling author Babara Kingsolver. I’ve read or am reading all of them. But she ignores the key book that started it all, Brian Halweil’s, Eat Here: Reclaiming Homegrown Pleasures in a Global Supermarket (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004). Brian is the senior researcher for the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., specializing in food, agriculture, organic farming, biotechnology, and coffee.

I called Brian and he authorized me to reproduce his list of nine actions that each of us can to to promote local food systems. I’m working down the list and just came to number 8:

  1. Learn what foods are in season in your area and try to build your diet around them.
  2. Shop at a local farmers market. People living in areas without a farmers market might try to start one themselves, linking up with interested neighbors and friends and contacting nearby farmers and agricultural officials for help. People can do the same with CSA subscription schemes.
  3. Ask the manager or chef of your favorite restaurant how much of the food on the menu is locally grown, and then encourage him or her to source food locally. Urge that the share be increased. People can do the same at their local supermarket or school cafeteria.
  4. Take a trip to a local farm to learn what it produces.
  5. Host a harvest party at your home or in your community that features locally available and in-season foods.
  6. Produce a local food directory that lists all the local food sources in your area, including CSA arrangements, farmers markets, food co-ops, restaurants emphasizing seasonal cuisine and local produce, and farmers willing to sell directly to consumers year-round.
  7. Buy extra quantities of your favorite fruit or vegetable when it is in season and experiment with drying, canning, jamming, or otherwise preserving it for a later date.
  8. Plant a garden and grow as much of your own food as possible.
  9. Speak to your local politician about forming a local food policy council to help guide decisions that affect the local foodshed.

Here in Colorado gardeners need to get the seeds in the ground by Memorial Day weekend. Our goal is to have our new community garden established by the next Memorial Day.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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