Not all of us grow vegetables, but all of us have bought them in stores where image is everything. Produce marketed in large groceries must have an appealing look to encourage a purchase.
This perfect look is a bread-in trait of a variety that will not show bruising, will survive days or weeks of transportation, and will survive the harsh pesticide treatment growers subject them to. Flavorless, pale inside, perfectly shaped tomatoes in large grocery stores are one example of this.
Beginner gardeners may anticipate a perfect looking crop at the end of the season and that is rarely the case, but unsurpassable flavor, aroma and nutritional value is nearly a guarantee. A curved cucumber, a racoon-sampled tomato, or a lettuce head with yellow outer leaves perforated by insects are all part of the experience.
Local farms will often sell less expensive “seconds” that don’t look perfect but lack nothing otherwise.
Large agricultural operations focus on cultivating varieties that are easy to pick and ship. Applications of chemical pesticides are used to provide the unblemished look. Varieties grown for fruit (blueberry, strawberry, tomato, cucumber, pepper), seeds (sunflower, flax), or flowers (cauliflower, broccoli) bloom and ripen at the same time, because machine harvesting in the shortest time is the most profitable.
For home gardeners’ and local farms, ripening over a longer time extends the harvest, which may be more desirable for home consumption. Benton strawberry is an example of everbearing variety in our area – one that was developed right here in Corvallis.
Gardens are ecosystems where the crops interact with insects, rodents, and extreme weather conditions. In other words, it is far from perfect. Gardening tasks, such as weeding, composting, and mulching – in lieu of chemical control and chemical fertilizers — can be labor-intensive but sharing one’s crops with visiting insects and wildlife may be a healthier alternative.
Some signs of plant problems, however, like shriveling of leaves may indicate an issue that may need addressing. For questions contact our local resource Master Gardener at the OSU Extension service.
And remember, not all commercial outlets subscribe to perfect looking produce. A company called Imperfect Food, based in San Francisco, CA, present in 38 states – all Pacific states included – is an example of a more sustainable way of producing and selling food. Their mission statement says “our groceries help build a kinder, less wasteful world.”