Moments in the "Garden of Eatin"


I know what I’m doing differently this summer.

No, it doesn’t involve the length of my shorts or a different vacation destination. Instead it's something that I can do, every day and every week — at least in the wake of Memorial Day and up through Labor Day — and try to perhaps incorporate year around: eating better for much cheaper.

In the past couple of years, I’ve had a few culinary and nutritional epiphanies, but this past week, just before Memorial Day, the come-to-the-light moments were palpable, tangible.

Moment 1: I sat down as a guest at a house with enough room for a garden with my first born son and ate a fresh spinach and lettuce garden salad — literally from the backyard. It had just been walked into the kitchen and washed. As the fresh green vegetables pimp-smacked my taste buds into a preservative-free realm of sublimity, the four year old Leffall man-child pointed out the obvious: “This tastes different, Daddy.”

Yes son, it does and not only that, it tastes better and it’s better for us.

If you know me or you’ve read my posts on this site, you’ll know I’m not the “shockable” type. I believe in daily irony and find myself smirking at most things good or bad, but imagine my delight, experiencing something I hadn’t experienced in more than 20 years since Grandma’s garden in East Texas — an organic experience without the buzzword.

Yes, a fresh food experience — no pesticides, no transportation wear and tear, no artificial light, no plastic bags, no huge line at the grocery store, no skeptical eye. Suddenly I’d been transported to another time and at once enlightened about what I’ve been missing and doing wrong — even when eating right — for the past two decades.

Moment 2: A day later, I saw a segment on the Today show about the Dirty Dozen. Apparently the U.S. Department of Agriculture says apples, cherries, peaches, bears, raspberries, strawberries, potatoes and even my beloved spinach, are all on a list of 12 fruits and vegetables that should, if possible, be purchased organically because of (throaty gasp) higher levels of pesticide residue than others. Whaaaaa?!

Moment 3: Two days after that was a farmer's market visit. I discovered that Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) accounts for the farmer's market summer season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. More on that in a minute but first a primer on my farmers market experiences.

My previous dalliances at farmer's markets were always in large urban centers, gawking at all the sunflowers and yes sun dresses, young people carrying Yoga mats and sampling wares from farms 2 to 8 hours away being hawked by mostly wholesalers with retail savvy and retailers of small outlying health food stores passing themselves off as farmers with farm fresh products.

As always, it was good to get outside, but similarly almost always a less than organic experience at these farmer's markets to say the least. And I always seemed to be out of cash, and it was a hassle to leave the market and go to the ATM and then come back.

But at this particular farmer's market last week, I talked to an actual farmer who hipped me to the concept of a CSA prepaid account and card. I could simply put $400 on a card and through 20 weeks of produce in the summer season, I would be spending $20 a week on fresh fruits and vegetables cultivated with homegrown seeds and organic pesticides extracted from flowers. If I didn’t want to do the $400, I could even get $50 gift cards and max those out, sparingly and gradually. I could even order ahead, get the amount deducted from my card and show up for express check out.

Soooooooooo…by the time you read this, I will have enjoyed some organic bok choy garnishing a local whitefish over a bed of wild rice. That head of bok choy was less than two bucks. In the store — and I checked — it’s five simoleons and I have no idea where it came from or what it went through, to boot.

The USDA estimates that Americans spends more than 30 percent of their monthly household budgets on food, with a national grocery bill of more than $2 trillion annually.

Based on that data, it’s likely that in the aggregate, over the average Memorial Day weekend alone, many families typically spend between $100 to $400 just for that holiday weekend on chips, hot dogs, and other wonderful American starches — not least because of the fact that demand spikes on weekends like that.

Yet $400 for the whole summer could get you fresh stuff — such as an organic ginger, lemon and cayenne pepper seltzer concoction that I picked up — and get the experience of tasting before you buy, talking to the person that grew it, saving some money and living better in the process. Whaaaaaa?!

I'm thankful and glad for these recent moments. Yeah, I definitely know what I'm doing differently this summer.

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Guest's picture

Caution, nitpicking follows...

I think the "two trillion" and "thirty percent" would be more meaningful in per capita terms. Why not say, "Every year, the average American household brings in about $22,000 per person. Of that, about $6,500 per person pays for the groceries."?

Even smart people's comprehension of numbers can be greatly improved by the right presentation.

(In case you're curious, my calculation was just a simple division:
$2,000,000,000,000 / 307,006,550 people / 0.30 = $21,715

Those numbers still look off, though. According to BLS data for 2008, there were 120,770,000 households in the US. On average, each of the households had a total before-tax income of $63,563 and spent $50,486 of that. $6,443 of the spending (that is, 8%) was for food.

Jabulani Leffall's picture

Thanks for the clarification. It's definitely not an exact science but the data, plugged in with an estimated 270 million consumers of age, paring down into Memorial Day in the aggregate, gave me that ballpark figure, still a guestimate. As you know 100 to 400 is a huge variance when you're talking about 270 million to $300 consumers. Also thanks for the caution on Nitpicking as the resident Kunta whippnig boy by commenters on Wisebread over the years, I've developed a polymer-grade skin LOL:) Have a Happy Memorial Day.

Guest's picture

You simply can't go wrong by going either organic, or by subbing fresh fruits and veggies for meat in your life.

Both from a health standpoint and a cost standpoint.

Kudos to the author!

Guest's picture

Although trying to find organic "bears" might be very dangerous to your health.


Jabulani Leffall's picture

Organic Bears, Yeah, Somebody's reading LOL:) Are all bears organic, perhaps not the gummy ones.

Guest's picture

Loved this article. I applaud you for showing your child how beneficial healthy eating is early on in life. I recently started trying to the best of my ability to live an organic and vegan lifestyle. It gives me cringes to know that when I eat colorful, healthy fruits and veggies, they are crawling with pesticides. I feel much better when I eat organic foods, really. Also, recipes are great and inexpensive, not to mention organic is better for you and the environment!