Healthy Eating In the Valley: Forage and Grow

Feb 15, 2014 | 2014 Articles, Healthy Eating in the Valley, Tom Sims

by Tom Sims

Enjoy the next Healthy Eating In The Valley column. Let us know what you think and if you have any suggestions of your own for us to check out! In future articles watch for some articles on local places to eat healthy.

Buy your food carefully, cook it properly and whenever possible, grow it yourself.
Stay hydrated.
Drink good clean water and herbal teas with local honey.
Eat natural foods, raw or nearly raw vegetable.
Eats lots of fruit.
Get your protein …

It is that simple, but it is also complicated. We love to eat. We also desire to live long and healthy lives, being productive and alert until the day we die. We live in a valley of abundance and contrasting abundant need. There is no food shortage, but because agriculture is also agribusiness, our economy demands that most of the food we eat gets shipped and processed and shipped some more. We have food access, food justice and food quality issues.

Tom in his garden

Without Central Valley food production, the whole world would feel a negative impact. 100% of California’s raisins come from the San Joaquin Valley and 99% of the pistachios, 87% of all California tomatoes and the list goes on, culminating in69% of all California’s agricultural commodities. Fresno is seven of 10 of California’s top agricultural counties.

Is it really possible to eat healthy food in this valley of abundance?

We like the convenience of opening a package and eating, of warming up something that is nearly prepared, or of microwaving something that does not look much like food and seeing a miracle before our eyes. We need to take the time to prepare our foods properly, slowly and carefully, enjoy them and allow them to nurture us.

Healthy eating can be very confusing because so many voices are speaking into our ears about what is healthy and what is not. We read one thing on the front of a food package and upon reading the fine print, we get a different picture. There is no requirement for food producers to tell you about their use of pesticides or genetic modification. It is difficult to track that information unless those producers have a reason and desire to tell you.

Forty percent of the sweet corn in the United States (that corn that is raised for human consumption) has been genetically modified. Since 1996, Monsanto has been producing “Roundup Ready Corn,” with is resistant to herbicides. Other modifications to seeds have created traits in corn that are poisonous to certain insects used in organic gardening.

Some argue that these kinds of modifications, including the vast number used to alter soy products, are harmless. Whether that is true or not, people who wish to avoid such products and eat organic, non-modified foods are left with little information for decision making.

It is more than just an issue of what malevolent traits have been added to food. It is also an issue of what is not present in that food. What comes out of the ground is dependent upon what is in the ground. If soil is not nutritionally rich and containing important minerals, the food will not contain those nutrients and minerals either. Soils have been depleted, overworked, over specialized, and not replenished with organic material. We need the nutrients that have been sucked out of our food, so we need to either “forage” for them in the markets or grow them in our own gardens.

Grandson digging his own plot

Certified organic food can be purchased from farmers markets and some grocery stores. Sometimes it costs more to eat a healthy diet, but we could also eat less! Let’s talk about modern urban foraging and preparation. Here are some random hints. They are just general rules that usually, but not necessarily always apply.

1. If it simply will not go bad, or takes longer than usual to go bad, it probably does not have much living in it. If there is not much life in it, it is probably not that good for you. There are some exceptions to this rule. There are many relatively healthy ways to preserve food, but sucking out all the nutrients is not one of them. To be crude, fresh food decays and that is one of the things which makes it good for you. Buy the freshest food you can find.
2. Eat it as soon as possible. The longer it is away from its life source, the less nutritional value it has. Don’t overcook it. Eat as many raw or lightly cooked vegetables as possible.
3. Buy as locally as possible. In order for food to be shipped across the country, it must be preserved somehow or another. That process does not always preserve its food value. It just keeps it from “going bad,” or “looking bad.”
4. Buy in season. If a vegetable is not being harvested right now and is available in the store, it is probably being shipped from somewhere far enough away that a great deal of time has elapsed.
5. For foods out of season or when the “fresh” fruits and vegetables are of dubious origin, it may be better to buy plant food that has been flash frozen soon after harvest or flash dried.
6. Buy nuts and seeds from bins at certain supermarkets.
7. Always read the fine print on labels. Don’t stop with the nutritional information. Read the ingredients list. For nutrition, look for percentage of calories from fat, things like vitamins and grams of sugar and protein. On the ingredients list, pay attention to what is listed first, second and third. If the real food does not show up until way down the list, you are not buying much real food. If the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, put it back or buy it with an intentional plan to be naughty in moderation.
8. If you see a label with too many ingredients you cannot pronounce, look with caution and suspicion on the box or can. Think about putting it back.
9. Too much wheat is not good, even if you do not have Celiac Disease. Too much gluten (GLUE) is really not digestible. In the line at the grocery store, I see lots of wheat products in the carts–and lots of white/processed wheat products. White wheat and red meat have become a major part of our diet when they ought to be treats and side dishes.
10. White sugar, white flour, white rice … anything that is whiter than the way God made it has probably been processed, bleached or altered in a way to make it less good for you.
11. Vary the colors of your vegetables. Color matters and indicates different nutrients and vitamins you need.
12. Eat some mushrooms regularly for immunity.
13. Wash your vegetables. You do not know where they have been or how they have been treated.
14. Purchase fewer boxed or packaged foods.
15. Buy quinoa. It is a great substitute for rice, is a seed and not a whole grain and is loaded with protein.

There is more, but 15 items is enough for you to “digest” (to follow the food theme) in one sitting. Foraging is not just a science; it is an art. Perhaps it is easier to grow, but you won’t be able to grow everything you need all at once.

Educate yourself about nutrition and what your body needs and then shop and prepare with those needs in mind.

Here is another approach: Look at your plate. Dr. Daniel Amen, television’s “brain doctor” on PBS, makes a suggestion from the program in which he collaborates as an author, “The Daniel Plan.”

Nutrition Experiment: Arrange your plate to look like this
50% non-starchy veggies
25% healthy animal or vegetable proteins
25% healthy starchy vegetables or whole gluten free grains
Side of low-glycemic fruit
Drink—water or herbal ice teas

Finally, there is growing your own food. If you do that, you always know what you are getting. You can control the soil (especially if you mulch or purchase mulch), what seeds you plant, how you water and how you deal with pests. Buy organic seeds, work your soil, use only organic fertilizers and products in your soil and use natural products to keep “pests” away.

And please, conserve water by watering wisely!

In February, it is time to start some things. In fact, it is always time to start something, if only planning. I go to the Farmer’s Almanac which suggests these optimal dates:

Beans – March 8-15
Beats – Feb 15
Broccoli – Feb 8-15
Cabbage – Feb 1-15
Cauliflower – Feb 1-15
Corn – March 1-15
Cucumbers – March 15-16
Eggplant- March 15-16
Lettuce – Feb 15-March 15
Melons – March 15
Okra – March 15-29
Parsnips – Feb 8- March 1
Pepper – March 15
Potato tubers – Feb 22- March 15
Pumpkins – March 15
Squash – March 15
Sweet Potatoes – March 15
Swiss chard – Feb 8-15
Tomatoes – March 8-15
Turnips – Feb 1-15
Watermelon – March 15

I also frequently consult the experts at my local nursery. My neighbors at Sierra View Nursery are especially helpful in advising me about the right products for where I live, how to treat my soil, which plants and seeds to buy and how to do whatever it is I want to do. Ashley and Samuel Hood are available as garden coaches at a reasonable fee, but they willingly and freely share advice with their customers. I have benefited from that advice on many occasions and look to them as mentors and suppliers.

Find a nursery with experts you trust.

Do you need land? Not really, not much. Even if you only have a patio, you will be surprised at how much you can grow in containers.

A very helpful diagram for vegetable gardening in a 4ft. by 4 ft. garden: is found here.

At this link, click on any vegetable for a complete and specific planting guide.

There is a similar guide at All Things Plants.

ABC Channel 30, KSFN offers a Valley planting guide. They include this advice: “Note: This information has been compiled from a variety of sources and is meant to be a general guide. Many factors affect when crops are planted and when they are In Season. Also, many crops have multiple varieties that are planted or harvested at different times. Please consult with your nursery or supplier for more specific Planting and harvesting information.”

Whatever else you do, after gaining some basic information, make a plan and stick with it, making minor adjustments as you learn. Each season, you will get better!

Here is a great resource for beginners: Veggie Virgin Formula: Zone 9 Calendar
The Veggie Virgin Formula makes figuring out what to plant in your garden simple.

Follow these 4-steps:
Step 1: Figure out your USDA Zone
Step 2: Download your chart (what you are looking at)
Step 3: Determine your sunlight
Step 4: Decide what to grow

Forage and grow. Our ancient ancestors usually were hunter/gathers or growers, but we can be both and must be. The ultimate goal is sustainability, but we are also interdependent.

The issues of food access, food justice, and food health are enormous. They are economic, political, ethical, and philosophical, but they are also personally practical. We can make a difference in society by making a difference in our own lifestyles. We can be role models, trail blazers, and healthy specimens. We can feel better, live longer, and be more effective.

And we can do it right here, in this garden we call the Central Valley.

Great Resource- Fresno Master Gardeners Who also operate the Garden of the Sun.

Garden of the Sun

Check out this video about the Fresno Food Expo this Summer:

You can find more of Tom’s columns here. Keep up with all of Tom’s writing by following him on Twitter @tomsims

Tom Sims is a local pastor (and Grandpa!), writer, and blogger. His congregation, “The Fellowship of Joy,” is part of a larger collaborative called “4141 Ministries,” of which he is Executive Director & he is an active Toastmaster. You can also find him on Facebook.



  1. Ok, so I was in the store the other day, and I was looking at all the honey selections, but it seemed I couldn’t find just pure honey, even though it said “pure honey”; every one was full of sugar. Is there a place to buy just real pure honey?

  2. Dang, thank you so much for posting this! It is going to help when I buy Quinoa at the market! Outstanding!


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