Whether you are growing your own food in a backyard garden or buying locally grown foods from the farmers market, there is no question that eating local adds to the local economy and creates a sense of community. What you may not realize, however, is that growing your own food in your garden or buying a share in a local community supported agriculture (CSA) program can also help you stretch your food dollar.
In order to make the most of food you grow yourself or that is grown near you, you need to focus on two things: growing what you eat and eating what you grow.
The first is the most important for those planting their own gardens. Before you plant your first seed or buy your first tree, take a little time to think about what your family eats and how your menu will need to change so that you can make the best use of everything that comes out of your garden. You need to consider what grows best in our climate and when the local growing season is for anything you decide to plant. Our extended growing season and super hot summer months mean that the peak time for growing some things is different here than it might be in other areas of the country. Consider which things grow well in our climate and soil so that you can get a bountiful harvest without spending all your time tending to plants that aren’t suited to the desert.
You also need to consider what your family likes to eat. It won’t do much good to grow rows and rows of tomato plants if no one in your family likes tomatoes. Likewise, if half your meals center on salad, you need to make sure your garden is designed to produce as much as possible. For farmers and ranchers, this adage also applies. You need to consider what foods are favored by local restaurants and repeat customers so that you are targeting the things to grow to meet the local demand.
Planning to cook what you grow is just as important as growing what you eat. Cooking from your own garden or even the farmers market isn’t the same as cooking from the store. When you are growing your own food or getting a share from a CSA, you don’t always know what will be ready to pick or what will be in your box on a given day. You may have to be more flexible in meal planning so that you can incorporate foods as they are available. You need to switch from planning a meal and then going shopping for what you need to seeing what you have and then making it into a meal. This shift in perspective will help ensure that everything that is grown is put to good use.
If you’ve never had a garden, nearly every Arizona county’s extension office hosts a Master Gardener program to help get you started. Plus, you might want to check out Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm is probably the best one to help you get started on growing your own food in your backyard!
So get out the gloves, that garden spade and get going on your edible garden!
- CSA’s in Arizona Growing in Popularity (fillyourplate.org)
- Get Your Garden Growing! (fillyourplate.org)
- Community Gardens Growing in Popularity in Arizona Desert (fillyourplate.org)