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The smell of fresh moist soil is thick in the air. My hands are covered in dirt, caked under my nails. In front of me is a beautiful, vivid, green little tomato plant, just a baby still; but I can see how its leaves are beginning to grow, the pink hued stem now donning little hairs which once transplanted will help build more roots. I dig my hands back into the soil and gently pull it out. Tenderly, it’s placed into its new home, a cedar crate barrel. I sit back and smile at the collection of green I have watched grow from seed, a deep sense of calm and accomplishment washing over me.
It’s a unique sort of bliss, the experience of growing your own food. There is a special sort of joy that comes with nurturing a plant, watching it grow bigger each day, and finally harvesting one of the most valuable things in this world from it—food. Perhaps one of the most essential and yet under taught skills of our lifetime, the incredible array of benefits one can reap from gardening is not to be taken lightly; the following are some of the best:
1. Health: Mental, Physical, Emotional & Spiritual
“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” — Alfred Austin
The link between gardening and happiness is not esoteric; in fact it is a widely recognized fact among many gardeners, mental health professionals, and members of the scientific community. Numerous studies support this claim, but what exactly is it about gardening which seems to trigger that happy feeling?
In a 2008 study by Mathew Page, titled Gardening as a Therapeutic Intervention in Mental Health, he states among his findings, “There seems to be an intrinsic relationship between gardening and hope. The very action of planting a seed in the soil requires hope; by encouraging and in some senses almost imposing a sense of hope on to someone, a personal journey may begin.”
This, among many other studies, has led to a practice called ‘horticultural therapy’ in which thevery act of gardening can be used to alleviate mental health issues and nurture feelings of happiness.
Fiann O’ Nualláin said on the topic, “Horticultural therapy is an emerging field of clinical practice based on proven benefits to the physical, mental and emotional well being that accrues from gardening as a healing or therapeutic process.”
Even if one doesn’t suffer from a mental ailment, the amazing benefits which gardening has on our psyche is readily available. The act of tending to your own garden, caring for it, and the final reward of harvest, leaves the gardener with a profound sense of purpose and accomplishment. Truly it is an eye opening, humbling and enlightening experience to watch a seed, dropped in dirt, blossom into bright nutrient rich produce.
Mentally, gardening soothes and steadies the mind, honing concentration and positive feelings. Emotionally we are rewarded for our efforts through watching the plants we care for grow and give back to us equally what we give to them; at the same time the feeling of being grounded is reinforced in us. Spiritually, we are reminded of our connection to this Earth and our oneness with all life around us—growing our own food reconnects us with where our food comes from and reconnects us with our own selves.
Physically, the labors of gardening keeps us limber and in shape in a way much more productive, practical, useful and rewarding than a trip to the gym could ever do. Studies have shown gardening to be capable of increasing endurance, strength, flexibility, hand to eye coordination, muscle toning, and improved motor skills. Being in a garden in general has been shown to reduce blood pressure and create feelings of peace, another positive physical effect. Appropriately, growing your own food also encourages a healthier diet, leading to higher consumption of nutrient packed vegetables and fruits.
“The psychological impact of gardening is that it is considered a serene occupation, an oasis of calm, a grounding experience. The combination of the fresh air and the physicality of the tasks helps oxygenate the bloodstream and energize the physical body while simultaneously releasing endorphins involved with stress alleviation. Numerous scientific studies validate the calming effect of the garden by showing findings that reveal simply being in a garden lowers blood pressure.” — Fiann O’ Nualláin
2. Know Your Food
“It’s easy for Americans to forget that the food they eat doesn’t magically appear on a supermarket shelf.” — Christopher Dodd
For many of us these days, the consumption of our food has become a very impersonal thing. Where once we used to labor to enjoy our fruits, or go to our local friendly family farmer to buy our produce, these days most of us are dependent on the grocery store.
The modern day convenience of the supermarket is noted as beginning it’s launch in the 1930’s. Before that time, the way people acquired their food was much different. Farmers were far more prevalent, and families would either grow their own food, or go to their trusted local farmer, creating a sense of community among people.
These days, our food comes from all around the world before it reaches our plate. You’ve seen the stickers with labels such as bananas from Mexico, or potatoes from the other side of the country. We trust this food we know nothing about to nourish our bodies. Much of the produce in our stores is far from fresh as well—whether it be year-old apples stored in cold temperatures for off-season sales, or conventional produce which has soaked up the pesticides it was coated in. If you have never bitten i to a freshly picked, organically grown vegetable or fruit, you are missing out—there is nothing like it; an experience everyone should have in their lifetime.
Also disconcerting is the rising trend in genetically modified organisms (GMOs); food created in a lab and already on your dinner plate despite lack of proper research or, in fact, even appropriate lengths of time to conduct said research. Many recent studies, such as this one conducted in France, have put forward evidence that GMOs may not only be unsafe, but extremely hazardous to our health.
While as many as 61 countries including the entire European Union and even China, have labeled or outright banned GMOs, America has been lagging behind and many consumers are left unwittingly purchasing these products.
88% of the corn in the United States is genetically modified, and corn makes up an enormous portion of our diet. Read the ingredients lists on your food (an essential and invaluable practice to make habit) and you will find corn is rampant. Likewise, 93% of soy is genetically modified, and these are only two of the several GMO crops.
Another example of the complete and blind trust we place in the providers of our food is supermarket recalls, which are not uncommon. All too often we hear a report about spinach being recalled because of a salmonella contamination or other such abhorrent examples. Some have even lost their lives to faulty factory health standards. What it comes down to is when we rely on grocery stores for our food, we are creating a cycle of utter dependance and trust on these various suppliers to provide us with the proper, safe, healthy nutrition we need.
How often in your day to day life do you put your full faith in someone you have never met? Our trust seems unwavering, doesn’t it? It is the convenience that does us in. Why bother with the work of tending a garden to have potatoes when you can just as easily head to one of the six nearby grocery store chains and pick up as many as you want? However, stepping back and viewing all of the amazing benefits of growing your own food, you may find the convenience is actually a sacrifice.
With your own organic garden, you will be sure exactly where your food came from and what is in it. No more wondering if that juicy looking strawberry is packed with a host of chemicals, or if that corn you serve alongside your BBQ is genetically modified. What you have is fresh, delicious and healthy food from your own garden. Food which leaves you feeling great long after that last satisfying bite. Food you can be proud of.
3. You Say You Want A Revolution…
“You have a couple of choices. One choice is to allow yourself to be co-opted a little bit. You dip your toe in the water. Pretty soon you put your foot in the water, pretty soon you’re swimming. And you don’t think you’re changing, you just say okay, I’ll do it a little more. You end up swimming. That’s what they’re anticipating. The other option is to resist. And maybe end up in Montana, you know, growing your own food.” — Noam Chomsky
In 1917 the idea of a “victory garden” first emerged. This continued throughout the world wars, when food production was in decline and the government sought a way to remedy the situation. Thus a campaign was born, encouraging Americans that not only was it patriotic to grow your own food—it was your duty to your country.
These days, farming is often the last thing on the average American’s mind. We have become a nation of citizens entirely too dependent on the system for our basic survival. We are a nation of consumers, and as long as they can keep us consuming, those on top will keep profiting. Therefore, it’s easy to draw the correlation that there are people who benefit from our dependance and who want to see us continue in this fashion.
Consider this—an organic tomato at the supermarket will cost around a dollar while an organic heirloom tomato plant will cost you about $1.50. In about a months time, you’ll have numerous tomatoes and your plant will continue to produce all season. Now we’re getting economical! By growing your own food, you can potentially save yourself hundreds to thousands of dollars in grocery bills; likewise breaking the cycle of dependance we have on our broken system.
But what about the space? What about those of us who live in apartments or condos? You would be surprised how little room you need to grow a bountiful crop. By utilizing pots, a gardener can grow food almost anywhere that has some decent sun. As a personal example, I currently have six varieties of tomato, five varieties of pepper, red romaine lettuce, kale, spinach, eggplant, three varieties of strawberry, three varieties of basil, parsley, cilantro, and mint all growing in the corner of a balcony, a 4′ x 6′ space.
Furthermore, incredible advances in the way in which we can garden are becoming popular—such as vertical gardening and hydroponics. A little research into the subject may leave many surprised at how easy and affordable it can be to grow your own food. Truly, gardens take a lot less labor than many people imagine, and are often far more enjoyable than they are work.
Equally as significant, is the idea of growing food for the community. Many studies have been conducted which support the idea that community gardens build stronger foundations for all who live in them. Whether it be by supplying food for those who are underprivileged, building trust, or simply utilizing unkempt land—there are only positive benefits to this practice. What’s more, is this practice could very well revolutionize our world.
“Nature shrinks as capital grows. The growth of the market cannot solve the very crisis it creates.” —Vandana Shiva
Imagine yourself in the city, but instead of looking around at a concrete jungle accented with flashing lights, you see an oasis. You see free space being utilized on every corner to grow plant life. Imagine vacant lots, once overgrown and littered with city trash, transformed into a thriving garden which supplies food for the poorest of the community. Imagine rooftops, once useless stretches of barren structure, reworked into a labyrinth of food, a garden to be tended and utilized.
Noteworthy in the progression towards this dream is the City of Seattle, which this year launched their plans to turn seven acres into our countries very first ‘food forest’. Imagine a world where free space in the city, in the suburbs, and in the rural communities is seized as an opportunity for a garden, to grow food—imagine this world growing so much, that most people receive a large majority of their food from these community gardens.
This is the way in which to end world hunger—by taking the power of growing our own food out of the corporations hands and into our own—by growing as much as possible—by funding farmers and community gardens all over the world.
“If we can have a fast food restaurant on almost every corner, then we can certainly have a garden.” — Bill de Blasio, NYC Councilmember
One of the most significant ways in which we can all create change in our world is to become more self-sufficient, and depend less on those who seek to profit from us. Independence, as well as inter-connectedness of communities will re-shape our world if pursued. This season, take up your hoes, your shovels, your soil—and plant the seeds of a better, brighter, healthier future for all.
“My passion for gardening may strike some as selfish, or merely an act of resignation in the face of overwhelming problems that beset the world. It is neither. I have found that each garden is just what Voltaire proposed in Candide: a microcosm of a just and beautiful society.” — Andrew Weil