Grow Your Own Healthy Crops

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Grow Your Own Healthy Crops
By George Giltner, Master Gardener, Beauregard Parish, LA
Health and nutritional value of food has become a common daily concern. The CDC reports that in 1958 less than 1% of the US population was diagnosed with diabetes. By 2010, the percentage has trended to an amazing 7%. For our youth, estimates are that 33% are overweight and at risk for diabetes. The cost of coronary heart disease in the US is over $150 billion annually (World Health Organization), with over 100 million people having high cholesterol levels (200mg/dl), and 70 million are treated for high blood pressure. WHO also reports that global cancer rates could increase by 50% by 2020. Our Western lifestyle with a high caloric diet, rich in fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein, combined with low physical activity, lead to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension and cancer. Those are the unhealthy facts.
Now, is the time for a healthy life-style awakening, a behavioral reality check, and sensible cost-saving solutions to your health goals. Gardening can be the best choice solution for healthy nutrition and physical activity. The DeRidder LSU AgCenter has a nutritionist, Master Gardener classes, and a wealth of experts to support you. Gardens can be grown in containers, from pots to raised beds, or bigger into row gardens. In a month you can have a nice crop of red lettuce, kale, and broccoli. For spring, plan for one of the healthiest foods, legumes. The garden-fun exercise is good for the entire family. Dr. Kathy Fontenot, LSU AgCenter School Gardening coordinator, says “When kids grow vegetables, they will eat them.” This behavioral change even applies to adults!
Since gardening is a consumer of time and effort, you expect a good return on your investment. Education and learning are vital to a successful outcome. The Master Gardeners Program along with the comrade of contacts through the course provides abundant gardening knowledge.
You will also want to grow the healthiest and most nutritional veggies. Questions concerning diets and healthy food can be answered by Christy at the LSU AgCenter.
Whether to go organic or chemical or somewhere between in your garden quest is another nutritional choice. Common chemical fertilizers (NPK) are notorious for acidification and depletion of organic matter in soil. Also balance of nutrients is variable due to solubility and leaching of nutrients, especially when high rainfall amounts occur. However organic agricultural practices in general are right on track towards providing necessary soil conditions for growing vegetables with good, and sometimes superior, nutritional qualities. New mixed-fertility, management systems makes selective use of commercial fertilizers and organics with the goal of producing mineral-dense nutritious foods. These ecologically-oriented farms using this system, produce foods of superior nutritional quality. In many instances it surpasses their certified organic counterparts. Soil testing is of prime importance. It provides the analysis necessary to correct mineral deficiencies in various soils whether organic, chemical or mixture farming.
Between 1963 to 1992, the USDA reported average drops in the mineral content of some fruits and vegetables (oranges, apples, carrots, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, etc.) The average % change was -30% for calcium, -32% for iron, -21% for magnesium, -11% for phosphorus, and -6.5% for potassium. Other studies support depletion of soil minerals in American farm soils and a loss of food nutritional values.
The practice of adding well-made compost in organic gardening is an excellent method of avoiding mineral depletion. Home gardens are under the control of the gardener, who feeds the soil with composted kitchen waste to a large variety of other organic matter. This supports soil life with needed macro/micro minerals and nutrients that in turn, supplies the vegetables with a balance of absorbable minerals (20) and other nutrients in a desirable on-demand release.
Another factor in food nutrition is freshness. Fresh vegetables are more nutritious than canned goods, some frozen goods, and imported produce. Canned veggies are cooked, then have stabilizers, salt, and preservatives added which make them a poor choice for people with health issues. Cooking and draining of food can result in a 75% loss of potassium. Blanching of frozen veggies causes the loss of water-soluble vitamins (like B vitamins), but removes few of the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, E, and carotenoids. 30% of vitamin C is lost in freezing. For more information refer to the USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors (2003). Imported or distant produce is typically picked raw, then treated with ethylene or other agents for a ripe appearance and a fresh look. However time and the disrupted ripening process of fruit can severely affect its nutritional quality and flavor. Food from the local grower or home garden can always be picked fresh and can have flavor comparable to vine ripe tomatoes.
The ‘mystery factor’ of our food supply is a major residual concern for most people. The ‘mystery factor’ can be “Where did this food come from?” or “Are any harmful pesticide residues or biologicals in or on the food?” or “What is the true nutritional value?”. A recent TV documentary stated that only 2% of food from China is inspected. A close inspection of supermarket pork may reveal that it came from Haiti or another third world country. Also there are only 3 major food suppliers of food in this country. Their main concern is growing food for a profit. It must look good, taste fair, have a long shelf-life and above all – be sold. Therefore, the best approach to obtaining good nutritional food without the ‘mystery factor’ is to buy local quality food or grow it yourself.
So there are healthy benefits in growing your own food. You can control fertility, pesticide usage, harvest time and choose many types of flavorful, nutritious vegetable varieties. Garden produce can lower your grocery budget, or it may even produce income from a Farmers Market. It is a pleasant endeavor that can improve physical and mental well-being.

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