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Savor the fruits of your labor

Now that gardens across Kansas are bearing vegetables, it's time to taste, enjoy and appreciate the fruits or our labor.

It seems like just a few short weeks ago folks walked to the machine shop, shed or garage and plucked a spade out of one of the dark corners and headed for the garden plot. Now that our home-grown produce is ready, it's a real treat to pick armloads of radishes, potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The tomatoes my mother grew remain the best I've ever eaten. Hot days coupled with cool nights, low humidity and 180 degrees of sunlight ensured these tomatoes tasted terrific. The wonderful, rich sandy loam soil of northwest Kansas where I grew up played a part as well.

Every winter, Mom started each tomato plant from seeds from her mother's garden -- talk about heirloom tomatoes. Talk about flavor.

While texture, variety and acidity are all paramount, for me the litmus test of a terrific tomato is the amount of juice within. It's also the amount of juice left in the serving bowl once the tomatoes are gone. As kids, we'd wrestle every meal to see who drank the juice out of the bowl.

In the late '50s and '60s, fresh produce wasn't as plentiful as today. Families grew many of the foods they ate. Some couldn't afford to go to the store and buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

Today, while most people can afford to buy all their produce, some still would rather grow their own.

One of the main reason people choose to do so is because home-grown fruits and vegetables taste better when their picked fresh off the vine. There's also nothing more satisfying than to walk out to your own garden, gather a handful of onions or radishes and head for the kitchen.

Another thing folks are discovering is how good foods taste raw. If you don't believe me, just bite into a fresh carrot, radish or slice up a cool, refreshing cucumber and slip it into your mouth. The proof is in the tasting.

Some of us were born with a sweet tooth. I'm one.

Fresh fruit, ice cream and chocolates are my favorites. If you've ever picked strawberries, and sprinkled them on a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream, you know what I'm talking about. Sometimes popping a few fresh strawberries ripe from the vine into your mouth is even better.

When I was a kid, Dad always planted sweet corn. We called them roasting ears. Corn pulled fresh from the stalk, steamed or grilled and spread thick with butter -- hey, someone bring me a napkin please, I'm drooling.

For those of us concerned about saving energy, eating our fruits and vegetables fresh out of the garden could be another alternative. Once you acquire a taste for fresh produce, it's nearly impossible to go back to cooking the bejesus out of your fruits and veggies.

So the next time you're out working in your garden this summer and sweat begins to drip down your face, remember all those wonderful, fresh berries, peppers, radishes and tomatoes you'll soon eat on your own table. Harvesting the fruits of your own labor will be worth it.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest

Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.