Inflation: Ideas for growing food in WNY

orange and red peppers
Photo courtesy Kai Pilger on Unsplash

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Maybe you haven’t noticed, but food prices are going up and may continue to rise.

Food plants may be a good investment right now.

To deal with inflation, consider growing vegetables, herbs or fruit that:

  • You are really going to eat
  • Are expensive to buy
  • You can share with others

Plant what you like to eat

I used to have a large section of garden filled with chives. They grow easily and get a pretty purple flower in spring.

But I didn’t use them much in cooking. Even though I froze some chives and shared some, I never used all that I grew. So in addition to wasting food, that spot in my garden was going to waste.

Instead of chives, I now grow garlic, which my husband and I use a lot.

It’s easy to grow garlic. Its flower is called a scape and can be used in cooking, too. I’m excited when I make a dish with garlic I grew. And I make sure none of it goes to waste because I treasure my garlic. To me, chives were just, meh.

If you choose food plants that you really care about, you will probably be willing to put in any extra effort that might be needed to nurture them, such as watering frequently during a prolonged dry spell.

Grow vegetables that are expensive to buy

Choose plants that are easy to grow and provide produce that would be expensive to buy, said Lori Gattie, Master Gardener volunteer with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Genesee County in an online presentation in 2020.

So what plants are easy to grow and provide expensive produce?

Gattie, with help from Jan Beglinger, Agricultural Outreach Coordinator/Master Gardener Coordinator, suggested these plants:

  • Eggplant
  • Mesclun lettuce mixes
  • Bell peppers
  • Hot peppers
  • Beans
  • Beets

After I heard this presentation, I started growing orange and red bell peppers. They add a lot of color to a dish, but they have always been more expensive than green bell peppers.

Check out this growing guide from Cornell Cooperative Extension that rates each vegetable on how easy it is to grow.

Plant extras to share

It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to share produce you grow yourself with your family and friends.

Think about how you might be able to share with others as well. There are people in our community who have trouble feeding their families in the best of times, and inflation hits them especially hard.

In addition, the East Side of Buffalo faces an emergency situation because the Tops store on Jefferson Avenue, the one supermarket for the whole neighborhood, is still closed after the horrific shooting on May 14. You may not have much produce from your garden right now, but if you want to help, consider being a volunteer.

“The biggest need we’re seeing right now is volunteers,” said Collin Bishop, chief communications officer at FeedMore WNY, which distributes food to hungry people throughout Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties.

“We need volunteers in the warehouse, sorting the donations we’ve received. We need immediate assistance there.

“And year-round, we need volunteers for home-delivered meals,” he added. That’s a way you can help in cold months when you might not have produce to share. (Meals on Wheels for Western New York and Food Bank of Western New York combined in 2019 to become FeedMore WNY.) See more here on how you can help.

Even without emergencies, the need for sharing food will continue in Western New York. If you want to add a few extra food plants to your garden this year to share, what’s the best produce for sharing?

FeedMore WNY and our partner agencies welcome donations of all varieties of fresh produce,” said Catherine Shick, communications director.

While they are happy to get anything you grow, produce that is easiest for them are vegetables that aren’t too delicate.

“We have found that heartier produce, such as eggplant, peppers and root vegetables, are easier to handle and transport to agencies,” Shick said, “whereas fragile produce like tomatoes and leaf lettuce can be more challenging to maneuver.”

One of the best ways that gardeners can share their produce is by donating produce directly to partner agencies, she said. They partner with 300 agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and group homes.

If you take your vegetables directly to soup kitchens and food pantries, the folks there are better able to make use of delicate vegetables since there is less transporting and handling involved. You may be handing your vegetables to the person who is going to cook with them.

A list of food pantries and soup kitchens can be found on the FeedMore WNY website here. You can also call FeedMore WNY at (716) 822-2002 to be connected with a nearby agency.

Of course, you should make sure that the food you donate is high quality. If you’re not willing to eat it yourself, it may not be a good choice for donation.

“Hunger exists in every corner of our community, and we greatly appreciate when Western New York growers donate healthy, fresh produce to help feed those in need,” Shick said.

6 Comments on “Inflation: Ideas for growing food in WNY

  1. Lyn, thanks for your kind words. All of this good advice was given to me by other people. Jen Weber of Mike Weber Greenhouses gave me the tip of planting what you will actually eat. “So many people get excited about planting something, like Swiss chard because it comes in a rainbow variety,” she said. “Then they realize they don’t like Swiss chard.” It might seem like common sense to some people, but it was a revelation to people like me!

  2. Hi Elaine. First, thank you for mentioning that people can get receipts for food donations. I never thought about that. Second, now I see that you can put chives in anything! They’re not as strong as onions, but they add nice color. Great tips–and a great story!

  3. Love this. I’ve been growing veges forever, even in apartments. You can find a way that isn’t expensive, too. Now that I own my own home, we have all sorts of things growing. Potatoes are insanely easy. We had potatoes through February last year from the harvest, I gave some away, but they probably would have lasted even longer.

  4. Excellent article and all good advice. Those who grow vegetables usually have some to share. Also choosing pants to grow that you actually use is just common sense.

    THANKS for always bringing such good advice.

  5. I found it kind of funny you wrote about chives. Growing up in Buffalo we always had a vegetable garden. None of my friends did. My mother prepared fresh vegetables daily not canned with meat and potatoes. I didn’t like potatoes unless she made them fried with butter and chives, the only potatoes I would eat. When I had my children I would make those same fried potatoes with butter and chives. My daughters friend was over for dinner a night I had made them. As we sat down to eat I heard her say to my daughter why is there grass in these potatoes. I told her they were chives which she never heard of. Surprisingly over the years I have met quite a few people who didn’t know about chives. I put chives in a lot of dishes, macaroni salads, potato salad, tossed salads, in dips also as garnish on dips, soups, cottage cheese etc. They are so easy to grow and they seed themselves so they multiply. Therefore you can give clumps to friends and family so they can grow their own. They have a nice onion flavor that is not overpowering. I would definitely choose chives over garlic. I like garlic in sauces but it can be to much for me. Basil is another fresh herb that I love in a lot of dishes. People don’t think about growing that. Indoors or out, nothing like picking off a few basil leaves and adding them to your food.
    One final note the fried potatoes and chives have been called “grass potatoes” since that dinner. Now I make them for my grandchildren.
    Sorry another note. I have been living in Alden for years and I have taken vegetables and rhubarb to meals on wheels/food pantry and they greatly appreciate the donations. They also offer receipts if you want one.

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