thumb-slowWith Guests Kristin Perry & Jerry Fritz

This week on Wellness for the Real World on, Dr. Veronica interviews experts Kristin Perry of The Kitchen Potager about the Slow Food Movement that is quickly spreading to fast-paced big cities, and Jerry Fritz of Linden Hill Gardens about Farmers Markets, which are sprouting like mushrooms in urban areas, and gardening.

First, Perry explains that Slow Food isn’t just about avoiding fast food joints. It’s a way of life that focuses on eating locally-grown food, often from one’s own garden, with a goal of preserving traditional and regional cuisine. Carlo Petrini started the movement in Italy in 1986 when he protested a McDonald’s opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Today, it’s a global movement with over 100,000 members in 132 countries.

If you’re wondering how you can slow down with your busy life, Perry did too. In her previous life, she planned corporate events and conferences for Bank of America and a museum. The commonality in bringing people together was food. She stepped out of the fast lane and created The Kitchen Potager, whose goal is to empower people about the kitchen garden.

You don’t have to change careers to get involved in the Slow Food Movement. You can start by growing foods such as arugula, lettuce, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers – all you need for a deliciously healthy salad — in your backyard. Add some herbs, which you can grow as well, and suddenly cooking becomes more interesting because you’ve played a part in it. It’s not necessary to have a huge area. A three-by-six foot bed will do, and even a small, sunny spot on your window sill can work as well.

Or find out if there’s a community garden, which is becoming increasingly common as well, in your neighborhood.  These gardens can be one community plot or many individual spots. They’re in urban, suburban and rural areas and can be used to grow flowers, vegetables or community. This is a great alternative because it encourages sharing, which allows users to broaden their scopes as they learn how to cook with various foods and herbs.

It seems as if everyone is on the healthy eating bandwagon, starting at the top. First Lady Michelle Obama began an organic garden at the White House. Chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution isn’t just a hit television show but is also an effort to encourage youths to eat healthy and avoid processed foods in hopes of combating childhood obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 17 percent of children and adolescents ages two to 19 years are obese. Congress is working on the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 would commit an additional $4.5 billion to child-nutrition programs over the next 10 years and implement the most sweeping changes to those programs in decades.

“It’s more of a right, rather than a privilege, of having fresh food,” states Perry, who credits Alice Waters, a pioneer who believes that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. Waters opened her now-famous restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., nearly 40 years ago, and in 1996 created the Edible School Yard, a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom for urban public school students at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley.

As Perry points out, food tastes better when they are grown nearby rather than be transported from a long distance. Food should be judged on taste, not being able to travel. Yet it’s no secret that in this country, we eat for volume rather than flavor. That’s changing as more farmers markets open in cities of all sizes. In 1984, there were 1,755 registrants in the USDA’s National Farmers Market directory. Last year there were over 5,000.

And farmers markets aren’t just for fruits and vegetables. Perry works with Fritz at Linden Hill Gardens in Upper Bucks County, PA, to run Ottsville Farmers Market, which in addition to produce also offers olive oil, granola, snacks, clothes made of alpaca wool, neck massages and beginning this year seafood that is sushi-grade.

“You don’t have to be wealthy to go to a Farmers Market,” Fritz says. “You can go and buy one piece of fruit. You can buy vegetables.”

Don’t be afraid to try your own hand at gardening. Not only is it therapeutic but it’s a terrific way to reduce the grocery bill. For example, a head of lettuce can cost between two and four dollars. A packet of seeds are around $1.50-$1.80 and contain hundreds of seeds, he says. Even if you only have 10% germination, you’ve saved quite a bit.

“I think gardening is easier than people like to make it,” Fritz says.