If you have ever tasted a homegrown tomato, you likely already know how much more flavorful it is than a store-bought tomato.
And it’s not just your imagination playing tricks on you. Homegrown produce does taste better than supermarket produce, and it offers a variety of other advantages as well.
1. It will look different
Your homegrown food will likely look a lot different than that produced by supermarket farmers. Even if they are the same variety of vegetable, they will not come out looking exactly alike. This is true, to an extent, within your own garden as well – even if you have two plants that were grown from the same seed packet, they will have variations in size, shape, and other features.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing – as a gardener, your choices in produce aren’t as limited as they might be at the grocery store. When you shop at the store, you likely only have two (if that) choices for produce – organic and not organic. At home, you can produce as many varieties of vegetables and fruits as you’d like.
Your produce will also likely be a smaller size than that produced by supermarket growers. Unless you select a hybrid variety that was specifically developed for size, and unless you add a significant amount of fertilizer to your soil, your vegetables will probably be much smaller than the ones you purchase at the grocery store.
While the size difference will vary depending on the type of produce grown (you likely won’t notice a huge difference with pumpkins, but you will notice that your celery and onions are much smaller), it’s not a huge concession to make when you consider you aren’t paying by the pound and you can grow as much as you like.
2. It will store differently
Each type of vegetable stores differently, and this is especially the case if you are growing homegrown produce. Many types of vegetables, like potatoes and squash, keep much longer if you have grown them yourself.
Other vegetables, like cucumbers and lettuce, won’t keep nearly as long. This is largely due to the packaging and preserving options the grocery stores have utilized. While it’s a slight downside to growing your own vegetables, your health will be in a much better state if you are only eating fresh produce anyway.
3. It will taste much better
Your homegrown produce will taste much fresher (and flavorful) than that purchased at the grocery store. You will find yourself using less salt and sugar to prepare your vegetables, and you might find yourself changing our recipes to incorporate more produce.
4. You get ultimate control
When you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you are in control of your produce supply. Your grocery store options are limited by the season, your zone, and availability. You get to choose what your own personal “supermarket” carries and how much of it you are going to provide.
Another factor to consider is that when growers who ship their produce cross-country select their varieties, they often favor those that withstand shipment well – not necessarily those that are highest in nutrients or flavor. You typically won’t see more fragile produce, like heirloom tomatoes, on store shelves as a result. As a gardener producing your own food, you are in control of what you grow and what you eat.
There are over four hundred different varieties of tomatoes alone, and with each variety comes a new health benefit or flavor. You can choose which types you’d like to grow, and select varieties of vegetable based on their color or growing patterns.
And eating an array of vegetables with a variety of colors helps to boost your consumption of beneficial phytochemicals like lycopene and beta carotene, which provide protection against aging and memory deterioration.
5. It is cheaper
Supermarket produce is expensive, making many people turn to packaged snacks (which are higher in calories and lower in nutrition) more appealing. If you have a limited budget, supermarket produce can be too expensive for your tastes and price point. However, a package of seeds costs only a few dollars at most, maximizing your savings and increasing your yields.
You will have more produce at a lower cost, and you can preserve or share the excess with neighbors to help spread the wealth a little more.
Due to your local climate or storage limitations, you might not be able to enjoy all the produce you love at all times of the year. However, you can enjoy homegrown produce all summer as well as deep into the fall, saving you significant amounts of money throughout the rest of the year as well. By cutting out the middleman, you save yourself time, money, and hassle.
6. It is more nutritious
A tomato is a tomato is a tomato – right? Not so fast. The most notable difference between homegrown or local produce and that produced at a grocery store is that homegrown produce tends to be significantly higher in nutrients. Here’s why.
When a package of green beans, for example, lands in your cart at the grocery store, it has already traveled thousands of miles to reach that point (even though green beans can be grown in most gardens and climates around the country).
This long journey gives the beans’ nutrients, including vitamin C and other crucial minerals, time to degrade. This is especially true if they have been exposed to heat. Temperature is usually not controlled in transit, and if it is, there are usually still gaps that allow the quality of the food to degrade.
Most vegetables are best stored at temperatures between fifty- and fifty-five-degrees Fahrenheit, bt this ranges wildly between different fruits and vegetables. Despite these vastly differing needs, multiple types of fruits and vegetables are often shipped together.
Furthermore, many types of produce (like tomatoes) are often picked green. While this allows them to avoid rotting longer, it prevents them from fully developing flavor. They are able to withstand transport, but they must be artificially ripened with ethylene gas later on.
Though not dangerous, as ethylene is naturally produced by fruits, it promotes the false appearance of ripeness. Your fruits and vegetables will look ripe, but not taste ripe or have the nutritional value of ripened produce. Tomatoes that are harvested green have about thirty percent less vitamin C than those allowed to ripen on the vine. They contain fewer antioxidants and much less flavor.
Even harvesting methods impact the nutritional content of your produce. Mechanical harvesting methods have a higher likelihood of bruising the produce. This can affect the fruit’s ability to ripen, withstand rot, and store nutrients. Vitamin C content in store-bought tomatoes can be up to sixty percent lower than those produced at home.
Years ago, a person could consume her daily requirements of vitamin A, for example, by just eating two peaches. Now, she would need to eat 53 peaches. Why the variation? Commercial agriculture of our time focuses on enhancing shelf life and eschews taste and nutrition.
7. It’s better for the environment
Not only has the nutritional content and quality of supermarket produce decreased, but it also places a significant burden on the environment. Over ten percent of all energy consumption in the U.S. food system is spent on transporting food – this adds up to million gallons of fuel and a significant detriment to the environment. Grow your own produce at home, and you are not only creating a way for carbon to be sequestered.
8. It’s more consistent
Homegrown produce is produced under (relatively) the same conditions every year. You provide your plants with consistent and ideal levels of light and fertilizer, as well as temperatures with little variations between growing seasons.
Your produce, as a result, is more nutritionally dense. When you purchase supermarket from the grocery store, you could be purchase vegetables from all around the world. Therefore, the temperature, light, and other conditions may not be consistent between two otherwise identical types of produce.
9. It’s chemical-free
When you grow your own vegetables, you reduce the risk of eating vegetables that contain harmful chemicals. Conventional farmers use chemical fertilizers to promote growth along with insecticides, herbicides, and other dangerous synthetic materials.
While buying 100 percent organic can help reduce your exposure, the easiest way to ensure you are ingesting no unwanted additives is to simply grow your produce yourself – you will know exactly what you are getting. Plus, you’ll save money by not having to pay the significant upcharge for certified organic produce.
10. It promotes a sense of community
Simply put, homegrown gardens won’t have as huge a yield as conventional farms. However, your garden is likely to produce much more than your own family is every able to eat. If you go to the grocery store and do your weekly shopping, you are likely only purchasing enough food to feed your single family.
Growing your own food on your homestead promotes a sense of community in that you can give your excess produce to your neighbors. What better way to spend time with your friends and loved ones than to gather over a fresh, home cooked meal? While you can host dinners and create delicious recipes with store-bought produce, there is something truly special about sharing the bounty of your homestead garden with the friends and neighbors that you care most about.
The easiest, most efficient, and best way to control the nutritional content of your produce is to – you’ve guessed it – simply grow it yourself. While not everyone owns a farm or has enough outdoor space to grow a garden that is large enough to support your family throughout the year, there are other alternatives. You can invest in an indoor small scale hydroponics system, or you can select produce that has only been grown locally.
While your homegrown produce may not always look picture-perfect or be ready to grace the cover of a food critics’ magazine, you’ll ultimately be much better off eating food that you have produced yourself.
The ability to select and eat produce within just a few hours of it being picked is a major advantage for your health, wallet – and will dramatically boost your overall satisfaction with the food that you are eating.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).