Frugal Locavore

A Worthwhile Journey

By Anna Thomas Bates | Photo By Anna Thomas Bates 0

I’ve teetered on the edge of vegetarianism, flirted with a plant-based diet, investigated the Paleo diet, and read the tenets of the Weston A. Price Foundation (traditional foods).

People are passionate and strongly committed to these food choices and lifestyles, and I see powerful merits in each. But I am not wholly sold on a single defined approach to eating.

The book that has resonated most with me is Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. His condensed philosophy is “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” While completely eliminating meat, dairy or grains may not be for me, eliminating chemicals is a no-brainer.

Every journey begins with a first step, and for every worthwhile journey, that step may take some effort, planning and a little courage.

The simplest way to begin on a journey of food with fewer chemicals is planting a garden—and the first step toward planting a garden is planning it.

Garden enthusiasts begin collecting seed catalogs in late winter, tagging pages and looking at the previous year’s notes. It’s a time ripe with expectation and excitement—new techniques, new varieties, and the promise of spring and green things is imminent.

If this is your first time, let me provide some gentle guidance. It’s easy to get carried away, and subsequently overwhelmed, but the best path is the simplest:

First, identify your planting space (some ideas can be found in my last column.)

Next, think about your soil. Different types of plants thrive in slightly different types, but a rich, well-drained loam will grow most things magnificently. If you’re concerned, have your local extension office test your soil and amend it accordingly. If you’re not too concerned, find a source for screened compost and add it generously to your proposed garden bed.

Now comes the fun part: deciding what to grow. This will, in turn, influence what you eat. Think about what you like to eat. If you are positive you hate beets, don’t plant them. Growing things yourself gives you the best produce you will ever eat, but it isn’t magic and won’t change the inherent flavor of a vegetable. (Although, I’m including a beet recipe just so you can really make sure you don’t like them.)

My planting choices are strongly influenced by a garden “mission statement” of sorts:

  • To grow produce for my family that is fresh, chemical-free and economical.
  • To grow vegetables and fruits that can be preserved to sustain us throughout the year.
  • To help my children understand their connection to food and the land, and to guide their future food choices.

I grow food we enjoy and can be readily preserved. I grow food that may not be easy to find at grocery stores or farmers markets, or that may not readily available at a price that fits into my budget—hello, organic red bell peppers. I choose plants that will pique the interest of my children and get them excited about helping out in the garden.

Here are some examples of what I plant and why:

Lettuce: Freshness—I can pick what I want, when I want it, and I’m never left with a bag of slimy greens in the fridge because I couldn’t finish what I purchased. At least not during the summer (lettuce does not preserve well.)

Kale: Abundance—we eat so much kale, it makes sense to grow it. Kale is easily blanched and frozen, which is perfect for enjoying in warm dishes, soups, and smoothies.

Tomatoes: Economy and storage—if you enjoy tomatoes, there is nothing like a homegrown heirloom tomato warmed by the sun. Organic tomatoes are not cheap, and a crop can easily be preserved by canning or freezing in a multitude of ways.

Winter squash: Well-kept vitamins—winter squash is a mainstay throughout a long Wisconsin winter and provides valuable nutrients when fresh local produce is scarce. There are countless varieties and many keep for months in a cool, dry place. Other more delicate types can be frozen.

Peas: Fun—peas are great because they are easy for kids to help plant, they hit the soil in early spring, and it’s fun to watch them scramble up a trellis. Tiny peas are delicious straight from the pod (especially for toddlers and preschoolers), and nice to have in salads. However, the effort it takes to grow, shell and prepare peas for freezing is onerous, so I don’t plant many, but my kids would be sad if I didn’t plant any at all.

This is not an inclusive list, but it gives you a taste of my thought process. I typically publish a complete planting list on my blog in early spring at

If you need any additional inspiration, here is one of my favorite recipes for beets, Beets and Whole Wheat Linguine. Also be sure to explore Edible Madison’s recipe treasure chest.

Anna Thomas Bates is a writer and mother of two young boys, living just south of Madison. When not extricating legos from the heating register or playing bulldozer mechanic, you can find her outside in the garden or in the kitchen making cookies. Or soup. Anna also blogs about healthy (and delicious) homemade food at

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