John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 8, 2008

Esteem for home grown even greater with food warnings

On the pages of this newspaper during the last several months you have often found photos of gardeners displaying their bounty.

Sometimes they come to this office to share their bounty; other times they come to show off a special specimen (look no further than the facing page).

We’re not unique. I would bet that anyone who reads this has either cultivated his or her own garden and shared vegetables and fruit with neighbors and friends or been on the receiving end of those who do.

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My Hattiesburg brother-in-law told me about blueberry bushes he once owned. So prolific were they that people he met in the street turned and walked away when they saw him coming for fear that he would try to give them some more blueberries.

Sometimes squash and cucumbers get that reaction around here in June. Then next winter you long for whatever fresh fruits and vegetables you had more of than you wanted when they were in season.

There’s a more serious side to this, and I am getting to it.

We’ve read accounts as fuel prices have risen about how higher gasoline will have a greater impact on people in the rural South because we depended heavily on auto transportation to get us to our jobs. No doubt that’s true.

It’s also true that people in the rural South are serious gardeners who know how to put food on the table from their own gardens. They can freeze, can and preserve the produce from their gardens for year-round use.

There’s little doubt that southerners have been more serious about their gardens this year. The trend is likely to continue as we continue to cope with higher fuel prices.

It also coincides with another development that should make us even more appreciative of our locally-grown bounty. Questions raised this summer about threat of E. coli — first suspected in tomatoes and later redirected toward peppers with no one ever really sure — raised our awareness of how little we know about where and who our food comes from.

Our esteem for home-grown vegetables and fruits grows with each shocking, new revelation of something gone awry in some distant place that might have resulted in contamination of the food on our table.

  The more that consumers seek out locally-produced fruits and vegetables, the more gardeners and truck-patch farmers will find incentive to make them available to us.

A farmers market flourishes twice weekly in nearby Oxford and once a week during the summer in Water Valley.

There’s a serious truck patch farmer in Tate County whose produce regularly appears during its season in the produce aisles at a local supermarket. You get the idea.

Every decade or so in the South, we seem to rediscover our appreciation for our homegrown fruits and vegetables.