“Eat local” is a foodie mantra for good reason. The longer your food is off the vine, tree, or stalk, the fewer nutrients it retains. Salad greens lose about half their vitamin C within 24 hours of being picked; stored for a week, they drop almost half of their heart-healthy flavonols. So even goodies from the farmers’ market don’t pack the biggest possible nutritional punch.
If you really want to eat local, grow veggies in your own backyard. “The vegetables we grow ourselves taste better,” says Mary Dumont, chef at the Dunaway Restaurant in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Dumont suggests home gardeners sow arugula. “It’s also known as rocket, for good reason,” she says. “It grows so fast.” It’s rich in folic acid and vitamins A and C. Sow seeds after the last frost; you can harvest leaves in just three weeks. Green beans are another easy-to-grow choice and give you a good dose of fiber. (Space bush bean rows 18 inches apart, pole beans 30 inches apart.) Tomatoes are loaded with vitamins A and C and the antioxidant lycopene, but the main reason to grow them is the fresh-from-the-vine flavor.
Dumont advises using rich soil for planting and relying on compost or organic fertilizers to address any deficiencies. “It matters what’s in your soil, because that’s what you’ll put in your body,” she says, bringing up yet another benefit of growing your own: What goes into the soil is entirely up to you.