It’s May, and you know what that means — it’s National Salad Month! Well, you may have not known this foodie-inspired piece of trivia, but we sure did, and we’re ready to celebrate! Here at the Square Foot Gardening Foundation, we’re naturally inclined to prefer and encourage you to grow your own fresh, organic veggies, including salad greens.
There’s nothing like taking a quick walk out to your Square Foot Garden and snipping some spinach, kale, or lettuce to prep for your evening meal, but we know that the convenience of prewashed and bagged salad kits from the grocery store are tempting as well. So, we did a little digging on bagged salad greens vs. fresh salad greens, because we want you to have the most helpful information at your fingertips — and here’s what we found. (Oh, and we’re keeping a scorecard, because Mel was always about tracking data.)
This one’s easy and needs no scientific backup — nothing, and we mean nothing, beats the taste of veggies and greens grown and harvested straight from your garden. Anyone who’s ever grown their own tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and cucumbers knows that there’s simply no comparison to homegrown harvest vs. grocery store offerings.
And think about this — bagged salad greens are sometimes 2 weeks past harvest. Hmmm. While you might get a bag that is tasty enough and will do in a pinch, if taste is at the top of your salad priority list, fresh is the way to go. No question.
Store-bought: 0 Homegrown: 1
Salad greens bought at the grocery store unfortunately have a lot of waste that comes along for the ride. Triple-washed and bagged greens waste an enormous amount of water, use plastic to bag ingredients, and electricity for the processing plant to complete all of these actions to get the greens ready for transport. Not to mention the cost to the environment for the transit itself.
Greens from your Square Foot Garden use only the water each plant needs, require no plastic, and the transportation from your garden to your table is about as environmentally friendly as you can get.
Store-bought: 0 Homegrown: 2
Recent E. coli outbreaks have been associated with greens like romaine lettuce, grown on farms that are irrigated with water that has been cross-contaminated. The cycle starts at animal production facilities where fecal content leaches into the soil sediment, makes its way into the water source, which then gets irrigated onto edible crops. Now, there are certainly other ways that salad greens can become contaminated, even in your own garden or home, but again, growing in your own garden allows you significant control over the health and safety of the salad you eat and serve your family
Store-bought: 0 Homegrown: 3
Let’s go back to the “Taste” section — remember when we said that bagged salad can be about 2 weeks old? What do you think happens to the nutrition content during that period? For starters, the process of pre-washing can expose those salad greens to a loss of water-soluble and oxygen-sensitive vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin B folate, and cutting the greens can create damage to plant cells which in turn allows oxidation to occur.
To be fair, the process of bagging those greens does a “fair” job of then preserving the nutrient content, but because of the less-than-friendly environmental impact of that process, we think the possible benefit is a washout.
Store-bought: 0 Homegrown: 4
Similar to the environmental considerations, chemical residue on salad greens is a bit of a moving target depending upon where you source your greens and how they’re grown. If you grow them yourself, and particularly if you Square Foot Garden, you have 100% control over any chemicals on those ingredients. Don’t use non-organic chemicals in your garden and you’re good to go.
If you’re in the market to buy your salad greens from the market, consider that spinach, kale, collard greens, and lettuce all score in the top 16 for pesticide residue from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Conventionally grown greens have about the same amount of pesticide residue whether they are bagged or not, and both conventionally grown and organically grown greens are likely to have been washed in a weak chlorine solution. So, our vote is still for the homegrown greens.
Store-bought: 0 Homegrown: 5
Bottom line? If you absolutely have to buy salad greens from the store, opt for organically grown, non-bagged salad ingredients. And while bagged salad greens are often better than no greens at all, there’s no question that fresh from your own garden is safer, tastier, and more nutritious than anything you can bring home from your grocery store. So get busy planting using your SFG grids, and Happy National Salad Month!