Plant vegetables in raised beds made of safe, untreated wood.

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Long-distance transport of food requires more pesticides and preservatives, packaging, refrigeration and fuel. Every step of the way generates huge amounts of waste and pollution, including global warming gases. So really cut the distance from soil to table by growing your own produce. You don’t need a lot of space to grow vegetables; a sunny terrace or even a windowsill can produce a steady supply of lettuce and tomatoes.

If you have a yard or a rooftop, consider putting in some raised vegetable beds (raising them helps to keep weeds down). But be careful when choosing the material you will use to construct the beds. Whether using scrap or buying new boards,  avoid wood that has been treated with hazardous preservatives (pesticides added to protect the wood from fungi, bacteria or insects).

Pentachlorophenol (penta) is an extremely toxic wood preservative that builds up in the food chain and our bodies and is passed on to our children through breast milk. Chromated copper arsenate (CCA), often used in “pressure-treated lumber” commonly available in retail outlets, contains both arsenic and chromium. According to recent studies, arsenic, an extremely potent carcinogen, can be absorbed through the skin on contact with treated wood, and can collect in the soil under most CCA-treated wood applications. Exposure to chromium can increase one’s cancer risk.

If you want to use treated wood, to reduce the potential for rotting, look for those preservative ingredients that are less toxic, including copper compounds, zinc compounds, and borates, but individual product hazards vary widely. Or you might want to consider alternatives to wood, such as recycled plastic lumber or cinder blocks, which last virtually forever.

How much you spend to start a garden will depend on its size. But the return on investment is huge, as you enjoy fresh homegrown vegetables all season long. In fact, why stop with just the growing season; freeze some of your own tomatoes and enjoy garden-fresh sauces, soups and salsa all year round.