Cool, wet summer has revitalized interest in garden-grown food

Now that gardens across Kansas are bearing vegetables, it?s time to taste, enjoy and appreciate the fruits of our labor.

Just a few short weeks ago, many folks walked out to their machine sheds or garage and plucked a spade out of one of the dark corners or cranked up the turf tiller and headed for the garden. Springtime on the farm or in town always means preparing the soil, planting seeds and growing food.

During a typical year, most Kansans are experiencing the dog days of summer?you know blistering heat, strong southerly winds and little if any moisture. But this summer has been different in many regions of Kansas where timely rains and abundant moisture have produced 11-foot corn, beans with leaves the size of footballs and vegetables galore.

Every day across Kansas people are picking tomatoes, potatoes and cucumbers by the armfuls. The tomatoes my mother used to grow in Sheridan County still are the juiciest, most delicious I have ever eaten.

Growing up in the late ?50s and early ?60s, fresh produce wasn?t as abundant in the grocery store as it is today. Knox market, located on old Highway 24 on the west edge of Hoxie, did boast cantaloupes and watermelons trucked in from as far south as Arizona and New Mexico.

During this period, families grew their own. Many couldn?t afford to go to the store and buy their fresh fruits and vegetables.

Today, while most people can afford to buy their produce from the local grocery store, some still prefer to grow their own.

You just can?t beat a fresh ear of corn, picked in the early morning and served slathered with butter for dinner or supper. The kernels taste as sweet as candy. Yep, tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupes and watermelons all taste better when they?re ?fresh picked.?

Also, there is nothing more satisfying than to walk out to your own garden, pick a couple of tomatoes and head for the kitchen. Once inside, wash and cut the red delight, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper. Umm they?re so good. I believe many a person said this long before Mr. Food.

And that?s another thing. People are discovering once again, or in most cases for the first time, how good foods taste raw.

If you don?t believe me, just bite into a fresh carrot, radish or slice up a cool, refreshing cucumber and slip it into your mouth. The proof is in the tasting.

Some of us were born with a sweet tooth. I?m one of them. Fresh fruit, ice cream and chocolates are my favorites. If you?ve ever picked fresh strawberries and sprinkled them on a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream, you know you?ve just experienced a little bit of heaven right here on earth. Sometimes popping a few fresh ones right from the vine and into your mouth is even better.

For those concerned about saving energy, eating fruits and vegetables fresh off the tree or out of the garden could be another option. Once you acquire a taste for fresh produce, you may never go back to cooking fruits and vegetables again.

So the next time you?re out working in your garden this summer and the sweat begins to drip down your face and into your eyes, think about all those wonderful fresh strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers you?ll soon eat on your own dinner table. When you harvest the fruits of your labor, you?ll know it was worth it.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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