Asians convert home gardens into food sources

By Nan Nan Liu
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Green is in.

No, it’s not the fall’s trendiest color; rather more people are growing their own greens and contributing to a sustainable lifestyle.

As many Americans have started growing produce in their backyards, Asian Americans are following the trend, especially since they get more variety in vegetables than what is offered at local grocery chains.

Conventional farming vs. home growing

In conventional farming, plants are mass produced, and chemical fertilizers are often added to promote growth. Insecticides and herbicides are also used to reduce insects and weeds.

“Humans take these foods [and] more or less take some chemical residue into the body at the same time. Some chemicals cannot be digested and will accumulate in the human body. Finally, the problem will come,” said Qin Xin, a Canadian from Edmonton who obtained a doctorate in chemical engineering from East China University of Science and Technology.

Instead of using harsh chemicals, home growing involves milder methods. Many growers opt for natural fertilizers such as manure or compost to enrich the soil; they trap insects or disrupt their mating to avoid the use of insecticides; and they hand weed or mulch to get rid of weeds.

In other words, growing one’s own greens, though healthier and better for the environment, is far more time consuming.

Yet, many home growers feel it is worth the effort, especially because they can save money on groceries.

Why they started

“[I started growing my own vegetables to] save money,” admitted Jing Liu, a small business owner from Neosho, Mo., who was looking for a way to reduce living expenses.

Liping Liu, another Neosho resident, said, “[I have] not yet calculated [my savings]. But I definitely save money.”

“[I] found [that] home grown [vegetables] taste better, save money, and [are] fun,” said Hejing Hong, a realtor from Irvine, Texas, who turned her 2000 square-feet backyard into a gardening project.

She saved a modest amount last year. “About $300.”

Yi Lin of New York, who also started growing to save money, has been more successful. She saves a couple hundred per month.

“[I] almost do not need to buy vegetables from March through October,” said Lin.

These Asian American growers are not the only ones. Food prices all over the nation have risen to new heights in recent years.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, “The food index rose 0.5 percent in August after rising 0.4 percent in July. The food at home index repeated its July increase of 0.6 percent, with five of the six major grocery store food groups rising.”

Other benefits

Although many of them started for financial reasons, Asian American home growers have discovered other advantages in farming their own food. Getting produce that they normally cannot find at regular stores, for example, has been a huge benefit.

“Some vegetables [I] cannot find in a store,” said Hong, who grows mainly “long bean, si melon, dong melon.”

Liu grows “Chinese cucumber, Chinese vegetables, [and] tomatoes,” while Yin cultivates “spinach, water spinach, winter melon, squash, sweet pepper, Chinese eggplant, bitter melon, Chinese celery, sweet pea, snow pea …[and] soy bean.”

All these Asian vegetables rarely show up in mainstream American stores, and an exorbitant price is charged by Asian grocers.

Snow pea vines, a popular vegetable used in Chinese cooking, can cost up to five dollars a pound at stores such as Uwajimaya.

Gardening has also become quite an enjoyable hobby for the home growers, and something they share with friends.

“We have some friends who are interested in gardening. So we have a common language and we have something to talk about. It is fun to talk to people who have the same interest,” said Liu.

“[I] have some sense of achievement, [when my crop is] good to look at.”

Something else they appreciate? The great taste of fresh vegetables. “[I] found home grown tastes better,” said Hong, whose parents and in-laws also engage in home growing.

“It is very fresh and organic. You take it and cook it right away,” said Lin, who purchases her seeds online and from New York’s Chinatown.

Liu agreed, “[Homegrown vegetables are] fresh [and] delicious.”

Healthy and environmental

Of course, the greatest advantages would have to be the environmental and health benefits.

Xin of Canada has been especially careful about her food intake as of late. She is pregnant with her first child, and she prefers to avoid any exposure to harsh chemicals.

“I do think [homegrown produce] should be much better for the baby. … It is much more natural and safe, without any human-made, undegraded chemical products. Since these products may induce a lot of potential issues to me and my child. …I want all the food I eat [to be] safe and green.” (end)

Nan Nan Liu can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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