“Mom, look! That’s the red carrot!” Alyssa’s eyes widened. “There’s a black carrot, too, and purple… oh! And here’s a yellow one!” My 5-year-old put down the seed catalog long enough to grab a pen. Studying each page meticulously, she circled varieties that caught her eye. She did make it clear she wasn’t promising to eat them, just grow them.
I had perused the slick pages of this full-color, feast-for-the-eyes catalog just a few days before, marveling at the rainbow on every page. Heirloom fruit and vegetables in all shapes, sizes and colors begged to be chosen, like toys in the Sears Christmas Catalog.
Did you know that tomatoes come in orange, yellow, pink, purple, black, blue, white, and multi-colored along with the traditional red? Have you heard of strawberry spinach? Or a melon pear?
Like most people, I’m familiar with the basic fruit and vegetables in the produce section of Kroger. I had no idea, until I scanned these pages, what I might be missing.
You see, the produce we purchase at the grocery store has been chosen due to its ability to be shipped, resistance to disease and length of time it stays fresh. And don’t get me wrong. In January and February, I’m grateful for the produce section when my garden lies fallow.
But in seeing all the possibilities I decided I want to try a foray into the unknown fruit and vegetable world. I’m going to try to grow this variety of red carrot, a staple for the poor subsistence farmers in India. (Yes, most of these unique crops have a story!). I’m also trying melon pears, alpine strawberries that produce all summer, and peppers that will be ground into homemade chili powder and paprika.
You see, the home garden has endless possibilities the produce section simply does not. In our Standard American Diet — also known in the health food world as S.A.D. — we grow accustomed to processed foods. In the process, we lose our ability to taste a variety of complex flavors.
We miss the wonder of taste-testing several colors of tomatoes off the vine and trying to decipher the differences between them. On a molecular level, we miss the balanced diet that a variety of multicolored vegetables provide. Did you know that the color of a vegetable will tip you off to its nutrient content?
The possibilities are endless.
The idea of growing untested varieties does seem daunting. But just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is a multi-flavored heirloom garden. Start small. Choose one crazy crop to begin with, and see how it goes.
While I didn’t choose the purple tomato, I did order the pink Amish Paste tomato and the one-pound red Hungarian Heart. And in a few months, I’ll let you know how my red carrots and melon pears turned out.