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Digging it


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POSTED: Sunday, September 27, 2009

I'm finally reaping the benefits of my victory garden. Not just by partaking of the fruits of my labor, so to speak, but in enjoying the process of gardening, as well. Perhaps there is a little bit of agrarian in all of us. As I cleared an area of weeds and tenacious vines, I felt as if I were reconnecting with the gardeners of my past.

I know what you're thinking: Gardens are so IN now. The Obamas have one at the White House; the fashion-conscious city of San Francisco is offering a victory garden starter kit encouraging residents to turn underutilized space into food production zones; and here in Honolulu, The Contemporary Museum Cafe, always on the cusp of what's hip and happening, has been churning out epicurean-style salads all summer long from their lettuce patch. While I usually shy away from the latest trends, having a victory garden is something I can latch onto without feeling like a groupie.

               

     

 

DO IT YOURSELF

        One of the best places to purchase starter plants is Koolau Farmers, where the staff is helpful and garden savvy. There are three locations on Oahu, at 1127 Kailua Road (call 263-4414), 45-580 Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe (247-3911) and at 1199 Dillingham Boulevard #C109 (843-0436).
       

To purchase organic seeds, visit Whole Foods Market (738-0820) or order directly from the source, at www.botanicalintersts.com.

       

If you are building your own planter boxes, avoid using chemically treated lumber, which, according to some, will leach chemicals into the soil. I constructed simple garden boxes with recycled lumber purchased at ReUse Hawaii. Let them know what you're building, and they'll point you in the right direction. Find out more at www.reusehawaii.org or call 282-8052.

       

 

       

Victory gardens aren't a new phenomenon; they were popular during World War I and even more so during World War II, when then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted one at the White House. The idea was that if everyone planted a small garden, there would be more food available for all, meaning less rationing on the home front and for our troops. It was a great community project showing unity and support of our country, a patriotic gesture, and some 20 million Americans did their part and started gardening. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 40 percent of the vegetables consumed during those war years of came from victory gardens.

I haven't heard of food rationing (or rationing of any kind, for that matter) to show support for our troops as they tirelessly seek to unweave the quagmire we've found ourselves in, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today's victory garden is seen more as a win over our nation's budget deficit, a way for ordinary families to help make ends meet. By growing our own food, we can save on food costs while enjoying the added bonus of not having to worry about pesticide residue and pathogens that nestle in leafy greens, which made recent headlines for the illnesses they've caused.

Another consideration is that here, on one of the most isolated land masses on earth, food tends to travel nutrition-zapping distances to get here, unless you're buying from local farmers or growing your own.

Much of the lettuce found in Hawaii supermarkets is grown in the Salinas Valley area of California. Lettuce is ready for harvesting 70 to 80 days after seeding; it is then picked, packed and transported via refrigerated truck some 85 miles away to Oakland, where it is loaded into refrigerated cargo containers and shipped the 2,400 miles to Hawaii.

After its journey, it is unloaded and reloaded into trucks for delivery to local supermarkets.

That's a lot of traveling for a head of lettuce, and expensive, too, with the fluctuating costs of fuel. This brings up the global-warming issue. The planting, fertilizing, processing, packaging and transportation of much of what we consume in the islands require use of fossil fuels, a nonrenewable resource that contributes to global warming.

IF YOU'RE hankering to reconnect with the gardeners of your past, start small. Plant what you like and what will grow successfully in your climate zone. I started my garden with several rows of arugula, a hardy, peppery-tasting lettuce that's heat- and bug-tolerant.

After the success of my first bumper crop, I expanded, adding tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, sweet peas, basil and, most recently, pumpkins. If the idea of a garden seems overwhelming, share the task (and bounty) with someone else. There is a great feeling that comes with clipping arugula and picking tomatoes and sweet peas for a salad that couldn't be more fresh, inexpensive or pesticide-free.

And I think that's a victory.