Some vegetable gardening has always been about easy, economical access to fresh, wholesome food.

And growing your own vegetables is a rewarding pursuit. Absolutely fresh, sun-ripened produce has better flavor, is more nutritious, and is nearly impossible to obtain by any other means. Farmers markets and the neighbor’s surplus come close, but there is no substitute for plucking a sun-warm tomato in your own backyard and eating it on the spot.

With increasing public awareness of environmental issues, we have a renewed appreciation for knowing firsthand how our food is grown. Choose earth-friendly methods of pest control that are often not practical for commercial growers. You alone control whether chemical pesticides are used in your garden, and will know exactly what has been applied and when it is safe to harvest again.

Another layer in the food supply-chain has also emerged for gardeners who want to understand exactly what they are feeding their families.

Beyond an interest in organically grown fruits and vegetables, there has been a growing awareness and concern about GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms.

Concerned gardeners are worried about whether the vegetable plants or seed that they purchase for their home garden could be GMO.

There is a lot of confused (and confusing!) terminology around GMOs, and some explanation is in order.

First, genetic modification is very broad term. Technically, it describes any form of deliberate manipulation of genetics, starting with the ancient practice of saving seeds from the best produce to grow the next year. Taken to the next level, a human hand may deliberately place pollen from one plant to another in hopes of imparting the best qualities of both into the resulting offspring.

As hybridizers have honed their craft and developed a better understanding of how plant traits are passed to the next generation, techniques have improved, and we’ve enjoyed the results of their labor. Larger fruit. Higher yields. Sweeter, richer, or more savory flavors. Longer or shorter time from transplant to first harvest. Tolerance or resistance to diseases and pests. Better keeping quality.

Few would deny the value of these improvements, and fewer yet if those improved items were to suddenly disappear from our food supply.

So, what’s the fuss about?

Well, in the public’s mind, the term GMO has come to represent the most extreme type of genetic modification—genetic engineering. In a laboratory, genes from organisms like bacteria are inserted into the genes of plant seed, with the intent of producing amazing qualities. Immunity to disease. Immunity to the effects of herbicides. Incredible yields in adverse conditions.

The potential benefits for the world food supply are tantalizing, but many are concerned about the possibility of risks and consequences that cannot be foreseen and may take generations to unfold.

However, rest assured that these high-tech efforts are expensive and directed towards large scale commercial agriculture intended for animal consumption, not the home gardener.

Your vegetable seeds and starter plants from the garden center or greenhouse will not be genetically engineered. Some seed companies capitalize on the consumer worry, and put No GMO on the packet, but the same is true of all the other brands on the rack. Regulations and procedures ensure that no one buys GMO seed without doing so quite deliberately, and it will be sold in volume at a feed store, never packets in a garden center.

So, controversy aside, a greater assortment of vegetable varieties is available to grow in the home garden than can be purchased in the grocery produce department. Because the vegetables do not have to endure commercial harvesting equipment, packaging and trucking, qualities such as flavor, texture and color can take a higher priority. Simply choose varieties that are pest and disease-resistant and have time to mature in our summer.

Relax, and enjoy a delicious garden.

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