Gardening in the Suburbs: Keeping it Local

My family and I are strong believers in eating locally and organically. In the late fall, winter and early spring, we get food deliveries from a services called Door-to-Door Organics and in the late spring, summer and fall we are members of a local CSA called Asbury Village Farm.

However, the most local you can get is to grow in your own yard. One of the things my husband and I were excited about when we moved to the suburbs 5 years ago was to have our own vegetable garden. However, as it happened, the house we bought has a backyard that is totally wooded — almost 85% shade. Not very promising for tomatos and other veggies that need full sun. We could grow them in our front yard but these fruits and vegetables would be great eats for the plentiful deer, rabbits and groundhogs that inhabit our neighborhood (makes two liberals want to go out and get a gun!)

So after living in our town for about a year, we were going to the local playground with our son. We parked right in front of a community garden. The gate was opened and we walked in to see approximately 70 or so — 10 feet x 15 foot plots– filled with gorgeous vegetables, berries and flowers. Wow, so cool — we had find out how we could get a plot of our own. A small sign at the gate gave the address of the garden club that ran this community garden. My husband wrote a letter telling our story and requesting a plot to tend. While we waited to hear back we talked to everyone and anyone to find out who we could call to speed and influence the decision making process. I tracked down the woman who ran the club and we called her. We were told that there was a long waitlist for the garden and that someone had to give up their plot to for us to get one — but once you get one you can keep it for life! So, disappointed, we waited.

Then one spring the phone call came. There was a plot opening up and it was ours if we wanted it. The garden organizer warned us that it was next to a tree and was shaded, but the last person who tended it had pretty good success growing tomatoes and other veggies. We jumped at the chance to grow our own food. That was three years ago and this summer we were given a second plot, this one in full sun.

Our growing season this year has been awesome and our gardens include tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis, peppers (a few variety), bok choy, broccoli, raspberries, beans, eggplant, asparagus, pumpkin, herbs, grapes and sunflowers.

What I think we like best about the entire experience, besides getting great tasting food, is how our children love it. They come to the garden and delight in how things are growing and graze on tomatoes, beans, raspberries and more. We believe that it is very important that our kids learn where their food comes from and how it gets to the table. We even took our 5 -year-old to our CSA farm to help weed, and he had a ball. He got meet the farmer and see the animals and taste the first heirloom tomato of the season. Bigger then a baseball, he ate the entire tomato like an apple (see photo above). Our kids will grow up knowing that food does not just come from the supermarket. They will understand from “farm to plate” not “store to plate.” Hopefully this will encourage them to be both better eaters, and more adventurous ones too.

There was an article in the New York Times on July 22nd entitled “A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss.” It talked about how people are paying someone to come to their house to plant, take care of and harvest an organic garden or they have their personal chefs buy local. Now that is great that they are eating this way but isn’t that just keeping them removed from their food? They are “locavores” in action but not emotion.

We grow it ourselves, and hopefully you’ll find a small plot to try this out yourself. Our next step is to try and store what we grow to enjoy the “fruit of our labor” throughout the winter. I have been reading How to Store Your Garden Produce by Piers Warren to learn all about it.

What’s your experience with growing your own food? Any good suggestions for storing for the winter?

About Melissa Goldberg


  1. We had our very first garden this year – complete with cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peas and peppers – all in one 4’x4′ raised garden bed! And I have fallen completely in love with gardening and growing our own food. It is so nice to walk into the backyard and pick some veggies to go with dinner or for my lunch I pack for work. And that one little box has grown so much we are giving produce away to neighbors and friends! I am already thinking about what I want to do next year – a second garden bed for sure! I am not sure about storing anything for the winter. I don’t think our little garden produces QUITE that much – but it is definitely plenty to eat and give a little away.

  2. Although I planted a little late and so haven’t harvested anything yet, I am loving having my first garden this summer! I take pictures every week to compare the growth. I love getting up every morning and seeing what’s popped up during the night.

    I just bought a book about how to do small batches of preserving, which I’ll use if I have enough extra produce. Next year, bigger garden!

  3. Hi, Thank you for such a nice post. Where we live, most people have their own vegetable gardens (although only a few are organic), but we moved from the city and had to learn everything from scratch, a few years ago. Now we are able to produce quite a lot in our plot. My favourite ways for storing are marmelade for tomatoes and quince (the kids love the first one, and so do we), freezing (for zucchini, raw and chopped and tomatoes, just wash them and freeze them raw and whole, you can then use them for a variety of dishes and the peel comes off very easily). I also make a sort of ratatuille with olive oil, onion, tomatoe, zucchini and whatever else you have: carrots, broccoli, aubergine… which can then be stored in jars for a few months.

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