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Consider Growing A Home Garden To Improve Your Family’s Health

We are well into our 2015 gardening harvest season here in Upstate South Carolina, and it’s always exciting when we get to sample the fruits of our labors. Our local strawberry season is complete, as are blackberries, peaches and blueberries—my personal favorite. The hot and dry summer limited crops of yellow squash, zucchini and green beans, but our garden is still yielding bountiful pickings of tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.

I added potatoes this year (my first home-grown crop in 30 years or more), not just any variety, but All Reds and All Blues that feature many more phytonutrients than white-fleshed ones. And the truth of the matter is, we now live in a retirement-duplex-subdivision in a small town with very limited growing space other than containers. But with compost and absolutely no chemicals, we were able to eat quite well, what with the potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, numerous herbs, garlic, carrots, chard, kale, radishes and more grown quite happily in large containers that blanket our back “patio.”

In our “postage-stamp-sized” areas with “red clay filler soil,” we are growing three Asian persimmon trees, a chokeberry, more than a dozen assorted blueberries, a pair of fig trees on either side of the front door and two thornless blackberries that have grown above the roof on the gutter spouts on either end on the front of our home. We topped it all off with just enough showy ornamentals to keep enough year-round color and interest to keep the homeowners’ association pleased.

Wife Pat and I grew up on small farms here in South Carolina in the 1950s and 60s, so we are quite familiar with the well-documented health virtues associated of growing your own nutritious and chemical-free fruits and vegetables and preserving them in season. When I was young, my sister and I helped with growing and preserving some 2-3 acres of garden vegetables annually, and we always had plenty of wholesome “real food” to eat all year long, as well as plenty to share with family, friends and neighbors. Both Pat’s grandfathers were vegetable truck farmers and one was also a dairyman, so she too knew all about the special worth of locally-grown food.

But as we got caught up in our career lifestyles over the years, it became more “convenient” to eat out more often, and although we still grew, cooked, ate and preserved some of our food, we were soon caught up in the jetstream of industrialized agriculture and big food corporations and all of their shortcuts to “cheap and fast food,” as well as their assurances that all of these products were safe for us to eat and provided ample nutrition so that we would have more quality free time, rather than time spent gardening and cooking.

We both had always been challenged by weight gain, and had experimented with various fad diets, some of which worked for a short time, but all of which eventually ended up with us back at square one. Finally, about 15 years ago, we decided it was time to totally restructure our eating habits until we could get our bodies directed towards a more sustainable healthy lifestyle. Even though our soda consumption was all of diet variety, it had risen to the point that each of us was gulping down an average of two liters per day, so we pledged then and there to quit and eliminate them from our lives forever. Our next pledge was to return to our younger days of growing and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and we began to research exactly what were the best foods for us to eat.

As we learned more and more about how the food industry has cashed in on government subsidies of our tax dollars to recklessly create an endless array of sugar-and-chemically-dominated processed foods, we suddenly realized that we all had been duped into believing that all of these empty-calorie “convenience foods” could somehow provide us with the proper nutrition to lead a healthy life. We knew it was time to know exactly where our food comes from and how it is grown, and the very best way to do this is to plant an edible landscape and grow your own utilizing sustainable cultural practices.

The deeper we delved into independent nutritional research, we knew that it would require our total commitment into the reading of labels on all food products, but especially processed foods, which are basically “manufactured” from all sorts of “cheap food masquerades,” such as high fructose corn syrup (which may have more than 50 aliases on ingredient labels), hydrogenated vegetable oils (especially corn and soy) and chemical derivatives to be substituted to provide desired flavors, aromas, textures, colors and preservatives. And yet with all these artificially-created and processed chemicals inside, many of these products will proudly display the words “natural” or “all-natural” elsewhere on the label.

Since that first step to eliminate soft drinks, we have carefully restructured the way we choose which foods we purchase, especially if they don’t come from local farmers’ markets or grocer cooperatives and sustainably-grown food exchanges, where we can easily determine where and how the food product was grown. It has taken time and patience, but many local grocery chains are now rapidly expanding their inventories of “organic” produce and even processed products, like whole-grain flours and even fresh bakery products like breads and rolls. But we always read the ingredients label first!

We know there are many out there who say they cannot afford to purchase organic foods because they are too expensive. We are both retired and are on fixed incomes, but we now see the most nutritious foods as our top priority and the somewhat higher prices as our investment in good health. We no longer watch television, so we use our cable service and movie rental money to cover the added cost of our organic food choices. We only have one cell phone to go with our main home phone, and the cell stays in our car and is for emergency use only, so we have the minimum rate for the lowest number of minutes per month. We don’t choose to smoke or drink alcohol, so when we work out our budget, we figure we come out way ahead by making wholesome and nutritious foods as our top priority.

Other hidden costs of processed and fast foods that are often overlooked are their rapid and highly inefficient depletion of our precious natural resources, their waste pollution damage to the environment including climate change and the massive health care load they add to any family budget for medicines and other required treatments for the chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and others, that have been linked to our Standard American Diet (SAD). By making nutritious foods our number one objective, we have all but eliminated most of our medicines for the likes of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even allergies, colds and viruses. We get our medicines daily from phytonutrients in our foods, so we simply don’t get sick and require trips to the pharmacy.

We are living proof that you are what you eat, as we are now both pushing 70, and other than injuries and aging maladies, most of which are driven by our poor diet choices in the past, we are probably almost as healthy today as we were 50 years ago. We look forward to continued healthy days ahead, and we encourage everyone to join us as we enjoy life the way it was meant to be, in close contact with nature and the soil. Choose a guaranteed healthy lifestyle by planting a sustainable garden and eating local and nutritious foods as often as possible.

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