But why on earth would someone grow their own potatoes? Russets are 3 pounds for $1.00 in my store. I've seen garlic as low as 25 cents each. Yellow onions, carrots, iceberg lettuce - with all the effort you put into them to grow them yourself, why bother?
Because, there are almost 4,000 (no, there aren't extra zeros there) varieties of potato. Garlic, leeks and onions make up a group that has over 400 varieties. Mexico alone boasts 300 varieties of corn. Carrots come in purple, red, yellow and white.
Look in your grocery store, and at most you probably see 4 types of potatoes, 3 types of onion, and 1 type of carrot. My organic food coop had 4 varieties of garlic. That's still more than the standard white soft neck kind one usually finds, but still limited.
We've developed such a monoculture of food, with our one white cauliflower and 3 red tomatoes (roma tomato, cherry tomato, and large slicing variety) that we're completely unaware of an entire universe of tastes.
Vegetables bound for the supermarket are chosen for their uniform, recognizable shapes and long shelf life, at the expense of flavor and often nutrition. That tomato, orange or melon is picked before it is ripe so that it can travel thousands of miles to your store and wait in your produce aisle. Corn starts to lose sugars and hence flavor the moment it leaves the stalk. If you've never liked corn, this is probably why.
You also now have genetically-modified foods cross-pollinating with heirloom varieties. Mexico has banned GMO corn but found it cropping up and breeding with heirloom corn fields, anyway. The more people demand that one orange carrot or one soybean resistant to Roundup, the more we start to lose our fruit and vegetable heritage. Yellow cauliflower, pink tomatoes, purple beans - all of these with their own tastes, storage qualities and growing habits, almost impossible to find in a regular store, all threatened by the spread of GM crops, and a ubiquitious indifference from a population accustomed to a limited selection of perfectly symmetrical, mild-flavored fruits and vegetables.
Yesterday I visited a friend to swap seeds. She showed me purple corn seeds she had no intention of sharing (which was fine; I'm growing popcorn this year, anyway). She attended the annual Bellingham Seed Swap and met a gentleman who brought exactly one ear of this rare corn variety and shared a few kernals on a first come/first come basis. Save some seeds from your harvest each year, he instructed. This variety is going extinct.
So here is my garden, and my choice of what to grow. If I had a large plot of land, growing my own food would make economic sense, with enough tomatoes to can my own tomato sauce and enough strawberries to make my own jam. Instead, I have just under 60 square feet of space, which is smaller than it sounds.
Do I pick the foods we can readily buy at the store? They will certainly taste better grown at home, without any pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilizers. If I am going to dig and mulch and sow and harvest, I might as well grow something spectacular; flavorful, colorful, and not likely to show up anywhere except possibly the farmer's market.