Quality Produce - what it means to me
In America, we're used to quality produce in the grocery stores. It's something that consumers have demanded, and the marketplace has responded.
The question for me is simply do we have produce of a quality that's in our best interest?
The term "quality" can mean different things to different people, so let's take a look at what we have in the traditional marketplace in terms of quality. Then let's look at what I think of when I speak of quality produce.
When we think of quality produce, we have to bear in mind the qualities or characteristics that have been demanded and accepted in the marketplace by consumers. It's our demands that are largely responsible for what we see in the grocery store.
Consider that most chickens lay brown eggs, yet until recently, brown eggs in the grocery store was an odd thing. Show the average child a brown egg and they'll ask "What's wrong with the egg?" or simply "What it it?" As consumers, we asked for or got used to white eggs as the standard instead of spotted, mottled and varying shades of brown, tan and rust.
A similar story can be told about produce. We demanded large and good looking produce, all year long. Sometimes we even demanded better flavor. So, here's what we now have in the grocery store:
- Produce that can be picked green and shipped without bruising or spoilage.
- Large produce items, regardless of flavor and nutritional value.
- Tomatoes ripened "on the vine" with tell-tale green seeds that show us they're picked before they're ripe.
- Bulk tomatoes that have no flavor.
- Limited variety from fewer mass producers and suppliers.
- Occasional "new items" that become standard in the market if we respond favorably as consumers.
- Out of season vegetables at premium prices.
- Huge strawberries with perfect appearance and great flavor.
- Several types of potatoes to choose from.
- Bulk items like salad mix and sprouts.
- Organic items at a premium price.
- Many more packaged products like cut and washed salad greens, carrots and broccoli florets.
Clearly there have been improvements over the years, but for the most part we've cornered ourselves into limited selection, higher prices and lower nutritional value. We're paying these higher prices because of our expectation of year round availability, and our demand for attractive produce that can withstand processing and shipping without noticeable damage.
With complete acknowledgment of my prejudices in favor of growing your own, let me give you my idea of quality produce.
Home Grown Quality
Have you ever had the pleasure of home grown quality produce from a roadside stand in the country? How about some of the U-pick fruit and vegetable locations? My memories of delicious tomatoes, corn, cucumbers and apples are vivid. I can recall eating fresh, warm and delicious tomatoes right in the field as we filled our bushel baskets with tomatoes for canning.
You can have that kind of home grown quality produce from your window sill, backyard, front yard or the vacant lot down the street. It's yours if you really want it.
Here is what I consider quality produce. As you read these descriptions, think about what you get in the grocery store as a point of comparison.
- Variety - one year we grew 17 different types of tomatoes and 6 different types of lettuce. We get to select varieties to grow that we like in terms of color, shape, size, texture and flavor.
- Freshness - I consider my garden to be a life size produce section of the grocery store. Fresh sweet turnips make it from the garden to my plate in 12 minutes instead of 1,200 miles.
- Organic - we're talking real organic methods, not simply methods that some government bureaucracy has determined are acceptable under the organic banner.
- Peak nutritional value - picked when ripe, my produce offers me maximum nutrition because often the last of the nutrients are brought into the plant or fruit as it's ripening, not when it's immature.
- Processing without gas, cold storage, chemicals or contamination that we have found are commonly associated with mass production of food.
Does it require more effort to achieve quality produce? Yes, but anything worth having is worth working for. If you do it right, it really isn't so much more effort, and the results are much more pleasing than anything you might find in the store.
Done with Quality Produce, back to Growing Vegetables