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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
GREEN POWER: Juan Gonzales offers some of nature's bounty at the Santa Clara Farmers Market.

All Green Thumbs

Growing and buying local can improve your diet-and-exercise program

By Eric Johnson

WHEN I decided, two Saturdays ago, to spend the day tearing up the back yard to put in a garden, I wasn't just thinking of all the free chard, lettuce and cantaloupes I'd be harvesting in a few months—but home economics was at least part of the motivation. Gardening is supposed to be cheap fun. Now I'm not so sure.

Going into the project, I was ready for some sweaty labor. And at first it felt great. It took just a couple of hours to hand-clear the wild onions and oxalis that had reclaimed an abandoned 20-by-40-foot garden patch. That was satisfying work, but already the thought of two hours swinging a shovel was making my back sore. So I headed down to the rental shop to pick up a gas-powered rototiller. It was $37 bucks I hadn't planned on spending, but what the hell.

I enjoyed the first 20 minutes or so running that tiller as only a man with a desk job can. It was a bit of a fight—I will admit it—but I was winning. I clenched the handlebars and squeezed the throttle while the machine dug in, growling and bucking, turning hard-packed dirt into cultivatable soil. Then came a loud screeching, and the thing practically tore my arms off before I had the sense to let go.

Dropping to my knees, I inspected the blade and immediately recognized what had caused the commotion—the apparatus was all wrapped up in a length of rusted wire. Gopher wire! Gophers! I had forgotten about those little monsters.

Gardening in Los Gatos, one must line every bed with gopher wire, or else watch helplessly as carrots, bean-vines and whole cornstalks get sucked down into the earth. Gophers, the blind little bastards, are voracious. The only way to stop them is an impervious barrier of woven steel. There was nothing else for it but to head to Orchard Supply.

Galvanized chicken wire, the good kind, with the little half-inch holes that the little suckers can't squeeze through, has gone up in price since the last time I put in a garden. Forty bucks! Now all I need to do is dig down 10 to 12 inches in each of my three 10-by-4-foot beds and lay the wire. Then line all four sides of each bed with 1-by-12 boards so the little shits can't burrow around the wire barrier (let's see—that's 84 feet of unfinished pine board; probably  $1.29 a foot, $108.36). Then I'll be ready to go shopping for compost, seeds and starts.

There's still some work to do. And I'm going to do it. Because I am out of my mind. Gardening is America's No. 1 hobby. Why? Because Americans are insane.

I suppose this is good-crazy. Everybody knows home-grown tomatoes are mind-blowingly delicious—and even better with some home-grown basil sprinkled on 'em. But I also get a lot of healthy pleasure from the simple garden greens—I like being able to walk out the back door into the summer evening and walk back in with an armload of just-cut chard and kale to toss in the wok with several cloves of just-dug garlic. On the grill, I like surrounding my steaks with super-fresh zucchini, red peppers and thick-sliced onions. Butter lettuce, from the garden, is just weirdly good. And garden-fresh corn? That's God's own candy. And it all tastes way better when it's free. Well, kind of free.

I realize it's not for everyone. So, for those readers who are not driven to dig in the dirt by nature-worshipping demons, here is a list of local farmers markets, where you can purchase fresh vegetables for a lot less that I will spend growing my own.

Local Farmers Markets


Campbell  Campbell Avenue between First Street and Central Avenue. Sundays, 9am–1pm. Year-round.

 Cupertino  Cupertino Square shopping mall, Wolfe Road at Interstate 280. Fridays, 9am–1pm. Year-round.

Los Altos  State Street between Second and Fourth streets. Thursdays, 4–8pm. May 3–Sept. 27.

Los Gatos  Montebello Way and Broadway Extension, downtown Los Gatos. Sundays, 8am–1 30pm. Year-round.

Morgan Hill Downtown train station at Third and Depot streets. Saturdays, 9am–1pm. May 12–Nov. 17.

Mountain View  Hope Street and Evelyn Avenue, across from the Caltrain station. Sundays, 9am–1pm. Year-round.

Palo Alto/California Avenue  California Avenue, near El Camino Real. Sundays, 9am–1 pm. Year-round.

Palo Alto/Downtown  Gilman Street behind the post office, downtown. Saturdays, 8am–noon, May 12–December.

San Jose/The Alameda  The Alameda and Hanchett. Saturdays, 9am–1pm. May 26–Sept. 29.

San Jose/Alum Rock Village  57 N. White Road. Sundays, 9am–1pm. Year-round.

San Jose/Blossom Hill Princeton Plaza Mall, Kooser Road and Meridian Avenue. Sundays, 10am–2pm. Year-round.

San Jose/Cambrian Park  Camden and Union avenues, Wednesdays, 4–8pm. May 2–Oct. 31.

San Jose/Downtown  San Pedro Square between Santa Clara and St. John streets. Fridays, 10am–2pm. May 4–Dec. 14.

San Jose/Evergreen  Evergreen branch library, 2635 Aborn Road, Sundays, 10am–2pm. Opens May 20. End date not set.

San Jose/Japantown  Jackson Street between Sixth and Seventh streets. Sundays, 8:30am–noon. Year-round.

San Jose/Kaiser–Santa Teresa Cottle Road and Highway 85. Fridays, 10am–2pm. Year-round.

San Jose/Santa Teresa  Santa Teresa Boulevard and Camino Verde. Saturdays, 9am–1pm. June 2–October.

San Jose/Santana Row  Stevens Creek and Winchester boulevards. Sundays, 10am–3pm. Year-round.

San Jose/Willow Glen  Lincoln Avenue and Willow Street, behind the Garden Theatre. Saturdays, 8:30am–12:30pm. April–November.

Santa Clara  Jackson Street, between Benton and Homestead. Saturdays, 9am–1pm. Year-round.

Santa Clara/Kaiser  710 Lawrence Expressway. Thursdays, 10am–2pm. Year-round.

Saratoga  West Valley College, Fruitvale and Allendale avenues. Saturdays, 9am–1pm. Year-round.

Sunnyvale  South Murphy Avenue between Washington and Evelyn avenues. Saturdays, 9am–1pm. Year-round. Wednesdays, 5–8:30pm. June 20–Aug. 22.

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