Your Health

Grow your own

Backyard gardens produce healthy harvest of food

Backyard gardens produce healthy harvest of food
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Recipe: Pumpkin custard

Recipe: Finnish apple pancake

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2010

As spring approaches, like many Winnipeggers, I'm pondering my garden once more.

Should I grow pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and herbs - the crops I've had success with before? Or should I challenge myself and try something new and scary, like peppers or broccoli?

I love gardening, even though I'm mediocre at it, at best. I find planting and growing my own food to be an exciting ritual, one that involves my whole family. My harvest leads to discovering new recipes and making old favourites.

The Dietitians of Canada also recognizes the value of gardening and the role it can play in healthy eating. March is Nutrition Month, and this year the organization's theme - Celebrate food . . . from field to table - is designed to encourage Canadians to eat more locally grown produce.

There are many ways to go local. Use your garden to grow delicious, nutritious fruits and veggies that can be eaten every day. Try freezing, home canning and preserving the food you grow for use during winter. And don't forget to choose locally produced meat, dairy and grain products whenever possible.

There are many benefits to eating locally grown food. Not only is it fresher, but eating locally also helps to reduce your environmental impact by reducing the need to use fossil fuel to transport food.

My house is still stocked with local food from last fall's harvest. My freezer holds pumpkin puree, applesauce, sliced apples, freezer jam, berries, beans, tomatoes and green tomato relish. My cupboards are full of jams and jellies, and drying herbs can be found throughout my house.

Gardening is a family affair. My family enjoyed growing, processing and cooking the 15 pumpkins we grew last year. The adventure started in May when my son and I planted the seeds. By October, my husband and son were busy extracting pulp, drying seeds and, of course, sculpting faces. Fifteen pumpkins yield a lot of pumpkin puree. We made soup, loaves, cookies and pies throughout the fall, and froze the rest for winter.

Another cooking adventure came from my neighbours' yards. I enlisted my treeclimbing son to fill bags with wonderful Manitoba apples and crabapples, which we turned into other delights: crisps, pancakes, pies, cakes, muffins, sauce and jelly. Of course, we made some "thank you jelly" for our generous neighbours, strengthening neighbourhood relationships and teaching a sense of community to my son.

Herbs are easily grown and can flourish in Manitoba's warm summers. They smell wonderful and offer great flavours that can cut down on your use of the salt-shaker at the table and while cooking. It's easy to go out to your garden and cut a few chives or some dill for your potato dish, or make a pesto with basil, oregano, parsley or sage. Need some rosemary for your lamb dish? Send out your child to cut some.

If you don't have space for a full garden, there are still plenty of ways to get closer to your food. You can grow some plants, such as herbs and cherry tomatoes, in pots on a balcony.

Some herbs also grow well in pots indoors on a sunny window ledge.

Berry-picking in Manitoba is a summertime tradition. Watch your child's face as she bites into a fresh strawberry. Discover where you can find saskatoon bushes and wild blueberry plants in your community. Fruits can be frozen and enjoyed throughout the year.

If you'd rather leave the growing up to the professionals, farmers' markets give you a chance to meet the people who grow your vegetables and fruit or raise the chicken, beef, pork, or other meat on your grill. There are many bustling farmers' markets open throughout the city in the summer and fall.

Getting closer to your food through gardening or other activities is healthy for your body, your family and your planet.

Rosemary Szabadka is a registered dietitian with the Winnipeg Health Region.

Wave: March / April 2010

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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