Local food gets closer to home with backyard gardens

The shortest of all food supply chains is from one’s backyard directly to the kitchen! Backyard gardening is an excellent way for people to reap the benefits of fresher, nutrient-rich foods.

Backyard gardening is an excellent way for people to reap the benefits of fresher, nutrient-rich foods. Photo credit: Michelle Lavra l MSU Extension

Backyard gardening is an excellent way for people to reap the benefits of fresher, nutrient-rich foods. Photo credit: Michelle Lavra l MSU Extension

The movement of food from the farm to fork is known as the food supply chain. It’s a complicated challenge for those who promote shortening the supply chain by increasing the availability of local and regional food.

Food gardening is rapidly increasing in the United States. According to a report published in 2014 by the National Gardening Association, “35% of all U.S. households (42 million) participated in food gardening in 2013 – an overall increase of 17% in only 5 years.”

Even First Lady Michelle Obama gardens at the White House. Her first garden was planted in the spring of 2009. The sixth garden was planted in April 2014 on the South Lawn. It helps to draw national attention to the benefits of eating healthier foods.

According to the Harvard Health Letter, growing one’s own food has the following health benefits. “It helps you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables; you decide what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides come in contact with your food; and it lets you control when to harvest your food. Vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than some store-bought vegetables that must be picked early.”

One such vegetable, easily grown in a backyard garden, can be eaten “fresh, dried, grilled, juiced or frozen,” according to the National Gardening Association. In fact, it’s the most popular vegetable grown by American gardeners. If you haven’t already guessed this mystery vegetable, it will be revealed at the end of this article.

The biggest challenges to backyard gardeners are disease and pests. Plenty of advice on solving garden problems can be obtained from neighbors, a clerk at a garden center or thousands of websites. However, gardeners should look for advice based on sound science. Michigan State University Extension encourages smart gardening practices. At the Smart Gardening website, you will find resources to become a smart gardener. Our advice is based on research performed at Michigan State University or other land grant universities. Additionally, gardeners seeking advice can call the MSU Extension toll-free hotline at 888-678-3464.

And what is the mystery vegetable that is grown in backyard gardens more than any other? The tomato!

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