Why is Store-Bought Produce Holier than Homegrown?



Guest Rant by Nathalie Lussier

You know what really rains on my parade? The idea that produce that someone else
grew is better than your own. I don’t know how the heck this notion came to be,
but it’s really been bugging me lately. (More than the bugs eating my cabbage

For the past 3 years, I’ve been tending an organic pesticide free
garden at my family home. I eat a lot of produce, so it helps financially. And
honestly nothing tastes as good as freshly picked vegetables from your backyard.
Except, for some strange reason that’s not the case for certain people in my

It’s almost as if food that you pick yourself, clean yourself,
and prepare yourself is somehow subpar to food that you buy. Maybe it’s the idea
that other people have some “secret ingredient” to growing vegetables, or
preparing them. But I don’t think that’s it. Maybe it’s the idea that you might
have missed a bug when you were cleaning the produce off. (Crunch, crunch.) I
don’t know for sure.

Or maybe it’s the value that other people place on
the produce they are selling that makes it more attractive. Like, maybe the
money you are exchanging for this cucumber or this lettuce makes it worth more
in your eyes? Because you had to spend money for it.

Personally I just
can’t wrap my mind around the idea that food you buy is somehow better than food
you can grow yourself. Isn’t it so much better to know exactly what goes into
the soil, and that no other customers with grubby hands touched your veggies
before you ate them?

Anyways, that’s just one of the things that has
really been bothering me about having my own garden. That, and the need to pawn
excess vegetables off to unsuspecting neighbors. I always thought giving excess
fruit and vegetables to neighbors was a kindness, and not a way to lose friends.
I have 5 large zucchinis that say otherwise.

Nathalie Lussier is known a The Raw Foods Witch and you can watch a quick video of her backyard garden transformation
.  She
gardens in Eastern Townships of
Quebec, Canada

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Susan Harris

Susan’s a garden writer, teacher and activist in the Washington, D.C. area. Co-founder of GardenRant, she also wrote for national gardening magazines and independent garden centers before retiring in 2014. Now she has time for these projects:

  • Founding and now managing the pro-science educational nonprofit GOOD GARDENING VIDEOS that finds and promotes the best videos on YouTube for teaching people to garden.
  • Creating and managing DC GARDENS, the nonprofit campaign to promote the public gardens of the Washington, D.C. area, and gardening by locals.
  • Creating and editing the community website GREENBELT ONLINE to serve her adopted hometown of Greenbelt, Maryland (a “New Deal Utopia” founded in 1937).
  • Also in Greenbelt, MD, writing the e-newsletter and serving on the Board of Directors for the cooperatively-owned music and arts venue and restaurant called the NEW DEAL CAFE.

Contact Susan via email or by leaving a comment here.

Photo by Stephen Brown.


  1. I don’t know anyone (although there must be some people out there) that prefers store bought produce to home grown. My 8 year old thinks it’s the best and always quizzes me about what we are eating and where it comes from. Trying to grow more but challenged this year by rabbits and squirrels.

  2. I would have to agree with Erica. I don’t hear much about food being better at the store. As a matter of fact I would have to say the opposite is true.

    That being said, gardening is regional and what is going on in Quebec may be quite different than what goes on here in northern California.

  3. Perhaps your family needs to be more involvemed in the process. That way they have could adopt a better appreciation for the end result. At least that’s how it happens in my family. Best way to get a kid to try a new food? Have him help grow and cook it.

    And I’d run the other way if you tried to foist an overgrown zucchini on me too. But I’d kiss you right on the mouth if you gave me 5 tender, succulent zucchini picked at about 6-8″ long like they are intended to be harvested. Think quality, not quantity.

    *steps off soapbox*

  4. With store bought produce they have culled all the less than perfectly uniform items and left them to rot in the field or be used in prepared, packaged or canned food. Vegetable gardeners actually eat the perfectly good produce that does not meet vegetable model standards.

    I might suggest you take some of your finer looking vegetables and start doing arrangements with them, like flower bouquets in prominent locations where the family can see them. This could help to change their attitude about home grown produce.

  5. I have a next-door neighbor who is also suspicious of the veg I give her. She says things like “That zucchini tastes different from the ones I buy at the store” or “Is this regular lettuce or something like collard greens?” when I try to give her leaf lettuce. I’ve been surprised at how uninformed she seems to be about what real food, freshly harvested is like. She’s not from a city, either, but from a small town near here in upstate NY. Odd.

  6. Thanks for all the comments. The weird thing is that it’s not just my family. Some of the neighbors I’ve been giving lettuce, string beans, and kale to have really scratched their heads.

    Obviously they’re grateful, but they don’t seem to consider it “safe” (no pesticides, eh?) and regard it with raised eyebrows.

  7. We don’t share the same optic nerve in our eyes nor the taste buds on our tongues. Everyone is different – AND, these things change over time so that what tasted funny when you were a teenager might now be your favorite food. I have a large veggie garden and in most years I can grow a bumper crop of tomatoes that taste exactly like the ones at the grocery store. Every once in a while I can get one to have that signature home grown snap but it doesn’t happen all the time. Some of my crops are superior but not all of them. It could be that my garden has some missing element in the soil or not enough sunlight or any number of reasons but usually the only thing that sets my tomatoes apart from store bought is the convenience.

    I once brought a bunch of yellow pear tomatoes to work to add to the pot luck lunch salad – even the horticulture staff turned up their noses! The tomatoes weren’t round or red enough for them, it didn’t matter what they tasted like. It takes all kinds.

  8. I kinda see where you’re coming from, and like Christopher I think aesthetics has something to do with it. The less than uniform veggies from a real garden can come across as subpar, even if they’re fresher and tastier.

  9. In the past as a non-gardner, non-chef (seriously toast was eating in) I would get really anxious every season when people foisted more and more tomatoes and
    cukes on me knowing I would have to pass them on or do something because no way could I let them go to waste. Now that I have developed garden/kitchen interests the weather has turned on me and I had to go to the store for tomatoes, and how I wish I were your neighbor.

    If you are as generous of your time in cooler months perhaps you can entice these neighbors with a small loaf of zucchini bread or other recipe from your produce, which will have them clamoring for veg next season, when they’ll maybe return the favor.

    Also if the doubting family members are aged 12 or so maybe it is a matter of, why can’t we be like everyone else and buy food? in which case hopefully they will outgrow it, otherwise, I would def. challenge this person to a blind taste test with their purchased goods, or do they not help prepare the food either?

  10. Kind of like homemade clothes. There’s still a little frown attached to something that wasn’t purchased in a big shiny store. The current is changing though. Give it time. Until then…figure out a way to logo your zucchinis 🙂

  11. I don’t know anyone who will willingly accept overgrown zucchini’s. Even a chef friend hesitated before agreeing, saying she’d have to shred and freeze for future loafs.

    Do you have a food bank that takes fresh produce? Or a community marketplace where you can sell the extras?

  12. While my kids rave about the sugar peas each winter, & swear there’s not a better tomato sauce than that made with our own tomatoes ( served over gnocchi from our own potatoes no less), there is simply no way to convince them of the superiority of the haricot vert I lovingly plant, tended, picked & prepared for them. They go for the mushy, metallic, vaguely grey, store-bought canned green beans every time. And convincing them that home-grown lettuce & salad greens or broccoli & brussels sprouts are better than anything from the store ? Mission Impossible. My co-workers appreciate it, however.

  13. With my family it is the bug issue. Because I am an impatient slapdash rinser offer. The daughter still inspects each leaf of lettuce carefully before ingesting. So I missed a little red ant one time, big deal. The crunch in the red raspberry pie was not appreciated by my husband. The dang japanese beetle had crawled right inside the cap of one of the berries and I missed it. He swears I did on purpose so no one else would eat the pie and there would be more for me.

  14. Probably a few things:

    When you go to a store, you get exactly what you want, when you want. Gardens tend to produce what they produce, when they produce it.

    Gardeners tend to over produce things nobody wants because they grow well. Zucchini is a huge offender here. I bet grocery stores barely move the stuff.

    If you were giving away broccoli or green beans, I bet they would accept a lot more produce.

    The other big factor is the organics. Most of the home grown organic produce I’ve seen (and grown) is visibly inferior to the supermarket stuff.

    Mostly it is insect damage, but sometimes there is additional heat stress damage (I’m in Texas), bruising, and contact with the ground.

    Gardeners tend to say “well just cut that spot out”, but grocery don’t buy damaged vegetables. They rightly consider even minor damage the mark of inferior produce.

    I usually divide my produce into presentation quality, which I -can- give away, and take the rest and make it into prepared items. Salsa works well for mildly damaged tomatoes and peppers. You can give away a can of salsa much easier than you can give away damaged tomatoes.

    Although you won’t be able to give me zucchini load – I never buy those either, and it’s not because the cost is so high.

    I know that isn’t going to be a popular answer, but that’s the reason.

  15. Like one of the first commenters noted, maybe things are different in Quebec, because here in Southern Oregon, there are ALWAYS takers for my homegrown veggies, no matter the quality/appearance/overgrownness, etc. People here know how to stretch their summer veggies and fruit into wintertime tasties, so there’s always someone who wants to can or freeze or turn it into a casserole or whatever.

    That said, while I haven’t been to Quebec, I do have family in New Brunswick, and I was shocked at the lack of interest there in quality food. The vegetables in the store look like someone emptied a can, rinsed the stuff off and is trying to sell it as fresh. The dairy is irradiated or overpasteurized or something and the half and half is mixed with sugar and cornstarch. So, maybe fresh yummies are new? And you know how people are about new…

    Anyways, I maybe way off the mark here about this. Quebecois are probably different than New Brunswickians or Albertans or Vancouverites. 😉

  16. Wow, I have never ever heard this! In my family home grown produce is revered and store bought is treated as something you “have to do” to get through the winter months. I wish you were my neighbor! I might say no thank you to every other zucchini (just don’t like them that much) but bring on the rest!

  17. i agree with so many of the comments above, home grown food is not as “visually” perfect as store bought and that turns off a lot of people. But, I don’t understand why you have to “beg” people to take it. If they don’t want it, someone else will be grateful. I am not going to make a zucchini loaf or a salsa, and add to my work level, just to convince someone to take my veggies.
    People should be happy that I thought enough of them to offer.

  18. “I always thought giving excess fruit and vegetables to neighbors was a kindness, and not a way to lose friends.” It IS a kindness so don’t stop doing it. Just find different people. I think the fear of home-grown food is about the word “dirt.” You and I view dirt as soil, a healthy thing. Many non-gardening people think of dirt as filth, something unhealthy. I suspect they think that agribusiness has figured out how to grow stuff in clean dirt. (Although most likely they don’t think about it at all.)

  19. I love the commend on growing in clean dirt, it really seems to sum up what some people think.

    Also, it’s so true – fresh home grown veggies are different and new from the canned stuff most people I know grew up on. If it’s not canned, processed, or “picture perfect” then it can’t be good right?

    Oh, and yes I am selling some of my excess produce at a local farmers market and did get great feedback from these market-goers. I suspect it’s just a matter of training people to appreciate the not-always-perfect produce of an organic garden.

    I’m really enjoying reading all the comments. I love how things are different in other parts of the world too! I didn’t realize it was so Quebec specific actually.

  20. We have been eating quite a bit of Zapple Sauce this summer. You take giant zucchini which is the preferred size, peel them, remove the innards, slice into half rounds, toss in a pot with the ingredients and cook until they taste just like apple slices. It makes fine Zapple Pie too.

  21. I spent one summer canning home made jams: strawberry, raspberry, apricot, apple butter, orange marmalade, and cherry. I even cut out little gingham circles and tied the tops with ribbon and hand-wrote the labels (before the time of laser printers). My sister-in-laws then had my husband inform me that they didn’t care for my homemade gifts and not to bother sending anymore like that. Evidently, spending money on useless crap is much more significant for a Christmas gift than yummy jam not loaded with high fructose corn syrup and non-pectin based preservatives.

  22. Thought of joining or starting a LETS group so you can barter your excess?
    Many are addicted to those clean, pesticide laden vegetables because they look like plastic.Real food does not and is more confronting.Stick with it the family will get used to it if there’s nothing else available and eventually will get to prefer the better taste.The others may in time come to realise that there is benefit in growing your own, give them time and be patient!Good luck!

  23. I would love to see an article detailing the process that commercially grown food goes through. After knowing what your produce goes through before you get it might change a few minds.

  24. What I grow myself isn’t always as tasty as the produce I can buy. I am not a specialist in growing one kind of plant and so I broadly grow lots of things. While some of them are mouth wateringly delicious, I also get extrememly peppery radishes, over grown zucchini, bitter lettuce and woody carrots. I’m not perfect. My standards aren’t as high as the grocerystore’s.

    But that’s because I’m not growing my own produce just because it tastes better.

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