Celebrating Organic Goodness on World Kitchen Garden Day
Celebrating homegrown, organic foods is the focus of the annual World Kitchen Garden Day on August 25.
The first World Kitchen Garden Day was in 2004, with Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI) creating the event as a healthy counterpoint to “Snack Food Month”, according to Roger Doiron, founder and director of KGI. This Maine-based non-profit network includes more than 25,000 people in more than 100 countries who take a hands-on approach to re-localizing the food supply. Each year, on the fourth Sunday in August, the group celebrates World Kitchen Garden Day.
“World Kitchen Garden Day is a day for recognizing the role that food gardens in all shapes and sizes can play in helping to feed a malnourished world. At the peak of the Victory Garden movement last century, food gardens helped produce 40 percent of our country's fresh produce and a very fit population,” Doiron said. “We've unfortunately lost a lot of gardening know-how since that time and Kitchen Garden Day is one way we can bring some of it back by having people who know how to grow food invite those who don't into their gardens. People celebrate the day in various ways from walking tours of gardens to homegrown potluck dinners. It's really an anything goes holiday as long as there's a connection with food gardens.”
Some of the benefits of a kitchen garden include immediate access to fresh, healthy and inexpensive food that tastes better than anything available in a grocery store. There are also benefits from the physical exertion of pulling weeds and other simple tasks to maintain a garden, as well as the satisfaction that comes from planting and harvesting food for personal consumption.
Doiron said there are a range of pluses to gardening. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there are different things that attract people to gardening. For some, it's the thought of enjoying the perfect, drip-down-your-chin summer tomato, or for others it's knowing where their food came from and how it was produced. Others still like the idea that they can eat well and save money at the same time. A few years back, my wife and I kept track of our own garden savings and found that we saved over $2,000 that year by growing our own food.”
Gardens also have the power to bring neighbors together. “We have a big kitchen garden in our backyard and a small one in front of our house and it's the one out front that strikes up the most conversations with our neighbors,” Doiron said.
To plant a garden, Doiron said there are five main components: land, a plan, seeds, a few basic tools and patience.
“KGI offers quite a bit of help to beginning gardeners through online how-to tutorials and a garden planning tool. We can't provide the seeds to individual gardeners, but we do offer grants of cash, seeds and supplies to schools and other community-based groups to help them grow successful gardens. As for the patience, that's something we all have to develop on our own. They say that a watched pot doesn't boil and I can also assure you that a watched green tomato doesn't ripen either,” he said.
There are plenty of challenges in gardening, from pests and diseases to unfavorable growing conditions. Corn might reap an abundance one year, and then, the next, deer might eat the plants right before harvest. Or the weather might remain unseasonably cool late into the growing season, which can affect plant growth.
Doiron counts traditional crops such as tomatoes, carrots, beans, salad greens, onions and cabbage family crops such as broccoli and cauliflower among his favorite plants to grow. He said he adds more challenging crops each year, such as melons or artichokes, to keep things interesting. “Also, as my wife is from Belgium, I always make an effort to grow some of the things that remind her of home like leeks and Belgian endive. Gardening not only offers us a way of connecting with the Earth, but also our culture.”
KGI spearheaded the campaign to plant a kitchen garden at the White House in 2008 and 2009. Doiron has visited this garden in person, and he said it’s even more beautiful in person.
“We were hopeful that the garden, if planted, could inspire new people in the U.S. and around the world to start digging in the dirt and we're so pleased with and proud of the leadership that First Lady Obama is showing in this area. The U.S. and the world face many daunting social and environmental challenges and having a productive new garden at the White House shines a bright light on the role that gardens can play in addressing some of them,” he said.
So, celebrate World Kitchen Garden Day this Sunday by visiting the KGI website and finding an outdoor activity that will interest you and your family or friends. Ideas include visiting a local farm, throwing a food theme party, or participating in a benefit for a local food or gardening charity.