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Swimming in zucchini bread and fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes this year? There’s a good reason. There are more vegetable gardens than ever in the U.S.

Growing numbers of Americans are planting their own gardens. According to a report by the National Gardening Association, over 30 million homes in the U.S., or over one in three of occupied homes, now boast vegetable patches. Urbanites who don’t have a back yard to dig up are joining the trend with herb boxes and vertical tower gardens, and community plots are popping up everywhere.

Even First Lady Michelle Obama gave an official green thumbs up to the trend, publishing “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” earlier this year; eating more home-grown greens is a key element in her anti-obesity campaign.

The benefits are many: gardens slash food costs while allowing growers to plant heirloom varieties rarely found in grocery stores, not to mention that casino jameshallison gardeners can control use of pesticides, and avoid iffy practices such as adding color, preservatives and wax to produce. According to the National Gardening Association, 58 percent of gardeners say they’re motivated because home-gardened food tastes so much better.

Fresh-from-the-ground vegetables pack more nutrients than produce that has been stored for days, and with plenty to pluck, fresh vegetables show up more often on the dinner plate.

Community gardens are flourishing, too, with help from city governments devoting space and new programs to them; even companies, including Robert Mondavi, have been handing out grants to community garden projects. What’s more, police departments are reporting that crime goes down in areas where vacant lots are “greened” with gardens. What’s not to love about this growing trend?

Join our community conversations at What’s Your Side? You can post and read messages on Food For Thought that interest, intrigue, and relate to you. Plus, you’ll find other conscious members ready to listen and share their experiences too.

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About Melissa Rossi

Born in Dayton, Ohio, Melissa Rossi's first words were, "Get me outta here!" She's been moving around since she was 17 — living in Seattle, Portland and assorted other parts of the Pacific Northwest as well as in New York, Vermont, and Florida (let's not talk about Iowa and Kentucky). After writing a book about Courtney Love (Courtney Love: Queen of Noise), which Courtney didn't like, Rossi decided to become a world traveler, and has visited most European countries. She has also lived in assorted parts of Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium. Fluent in "Spitalnishsian" — an Italian, Spanish blend with a dash of Russian thrown in — Rossi has written for such publications as National Geographic Traveler, Newsweek, MSNBC and George, and is the author of What Every American Should Know about the Rest of the World (Plume/Penguin, 2003). A chronic sufferer of "Urban Deficit Disorder" — she can't focus on one city for long — Rossi probably will never settle down long enough to call one place her home.

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