Twelve Common Traits of Pantry Gardeners

What is it about growing and preserving your own food that makes it worth the time and trouble? Author Barbara Pleasant can think of a few answers.

Back in 2010, Melissa A. Click from the University of Missouri and Ronit Ridberg from Tufts University published their examination of why people grow and preserve their own food. Their results showed complex motives, but food activism was a recurrent theme.

Photo of orange, yellow and red carrots.
Photo © Kip Dawkins Photography

After sorting through and analyzing more than 900 interviews with people who stock their pantries with homegrown food, the authors named their paper “Saving Food: Food Preservation as Alternative Food Activism.” They wrote: “Food preservation emphasizes connection and relationships and thus has the potential to subvert the capitalistic logic of the global agro-food industry.”

This came as a revelation to me and helped me become a better information sharer and listener. I had started lecturing on managing your homegrown food supply, and I will always remember a group waiting to hear what I had to say at the Mother Earth News Fair in Lawrence, Kansas. The room was full with people who were already growing and preserving some of their own food, and they wanted to do more of it. Many had children or grandchildren in tow. The energy was great, so we spent a lot of time talking about why we do what we do.

Photo of radishes.
Photo © Kip Dawkins Photography

What is it about growing and preserving your own food that makes it worth the time and trouble?

I was the only one there who had read Click and Ridberg’s paper, but the Kansas group (and many others since then) validated and expanded the reasons why we commit to growing and preserving garden food, season after season. We pantry gardeners are a diverse, freethinking crowd, but here are 12 things many of us have in common.

  1. You want to know what’s in your food from seed to table. You perceive foods grown with systemic pesticides or genetic alterations as unacceptable, and you want to feel comfortable with what you eat.
  2. You want to control how your food tastes in terms of sugar and salt, and you don’t want synthetic preservatives or colors. Plain food is good food.
  3. You want to feel confident rather than suspicious about the food you eat and serve to your children. Several major medical schools have advised pregnant women and young children to eat organic food because of high levels of carcinogens and other toxins present in mainstream foods. This is not news to you.
  4. You want your food to be consistent with your personal morals and beliefs. If you are a vegetarian, for example, growing and processing your own foods gives you a chance to eliminate animal-based ingredients.
  5. You feel that growing and preserving your own food makes you a member in good standing of the global social movement toward clean, ethically grown food. Talking food sustainability is good, but acting on those beliefs makes you feel that you are part of something bigger.
  6. You think of spending your money as a political act, especially when it comes to food. The belief in voting with your dollars is strong among gardeners who grow their own food, from the seed companies they patronize to the equipment and ingredients they buy for preserving food.
  7. You feel empowered by knowing how to grow and preserve food to eat year-round. The transition from “I think maybe I can grow potatoes” to gaining the skills needed to grow, harvest, cure, and store a bumper crop brings a certain boldness of being.
  8. You are willing to work hard for the reward of food security, and upon balance you think it’s a good deal. Some days are easier than others, with persistence your only choice, but when the harvest is done you feel it was all worth it.
  9. You regard growing and preserving your own food as an investment in your personal health, and that of your community and environment. By growing clean, nutritious food, using organic methods, you feel like you are doing your part.
  10. You find that managing your own food supply connects you more deeply to nature and the earth. From the changing of the seasons to the hardness or softness of rain, you sense the world as a human and as a plant.
  11. You feel a sense of family and social history when you grow and store your own food. Maybe it’s making your grandmother’s pickles, or your uncle’s apple butter, but certain family recipes for preserved foods embrace us on deep levels, as sensory definitions of family.
  12. You think a pantry filled with homegrown food is about the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, and you like pretty things. To you, few things are more beautiful than abundance.

Sound familiar? Then it’s time we got down to business.

Text excerpted and adapted from Homegrown Pantry © Barbara Pleasant.

Barbara Pleasant

Barbara Pleasant

About the Author

Barbara Pleasant has written about organic gardening and self-sufficient living for more than 30 years. Her books include Starter Vegetable Gardens, 2nd Edition, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The Gardener’s Bug Book, The Gardener’s Weed Book, and The Gardener’s Guide to Plant Diseases

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