Reasons to Grow Your Own

Shari Manolas Danielson is a Minneapolis writer, editor, information designer, wife, mother, educator, coach, trainer, and friend. Her Writing Blindly blog is terrific, thought-provoking, and inspiring. This is Shari’s first post for Simple, Good, and Tasty, and I’ll do all I can to talk her into more.

The phrase “Grow your own” used to mean what your friend in college did when he turned his dorm room into a very specialized (and highly illegal) greenhouse.

Today, “Grow your own” is the rallying cry for the burgeoning home garden movement. According to the National Gardening Association, 43 million of us will grow our own fruits, vegetables and herbs this year – a 19 percent increase over last year. Seed companies are projecting sales increases between 20 and 80 percent. And sales at home gardening centers, for the month of April, were up 42 percent.

 One of the few hot trends in retail today, gardening is fashionable for many reasons. Some say it’s due to the recession - people trying to save money on groceries by growing their own. Others say it’s our heightened concern for the environment, or our awareness about food safety and nutrition. Whatever the reason - or, more likely, the combination of reasons - growing your own food makes a statement that transcends political parties, religions, even socio-economic strata. It’s common ground between liberal, Prius-driving professionals and conservative, home-schooling moms.

For me, gardening is a profound act of creativity; assembling all the variables to create the perfect tomato, for instance, is a work of art that surpasses anything displayed in a museum. I’ve also found that gardening is the ultimate self-improvement project; the lessons my garden has taught - faith, patience, humility, the impracticality of a manicure, to name a few - have made me a better person. Poet Alfred Austin seemed to be saying this as well, when he wrote, “Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.” So perhaps the most important benefits to “growing your own” are the ones that can’t be measured by trend analysts or market researchers. Here are a few to consider:

  1. You’ll eat better. What you grow yourself will be fresher, more flavorful, and more nutritious than anything you can buy. Having an abundance of fresh vegetables will also encourage you to take time to cook, learn new recipes, expand your culinary horizons. Plus, you’ll be better informed about what restaurants are serving, and be able to credibly ask waiters questions like, “What variety of basil is this?” Or, “Were these onions overwintered?” Or, “Since tomatoes aren’t in season yet, were these greenhouse-ripened in Minnesota or shipped from California?”
  2. You’ll be sexier. Gardening will help you build a stronger, more beautiful body. Digging, hoeing, tilling, and pushing a full wheelbarrow from one end of the yard to the other develops muscles you never knew you had. And there’s no risk of being muscle-bound, because you’ll also increase your flexibility: squatting to plant seeds opens your hips and stretches your quadriceps; folding forward to pull weeds lengthens your hamstrings; stepping over three rows of lettuce to spread mulch limbers up your inner thighs. (Trust me, I’m a yoga teacher.) Also, time in the sun – even wearing a hat and sunscreen – will give you a golden glow that looks great in, or out of, summer clothes.
  3. You’ll be cheerier. Time spent in the sun gardening also boosts your vitamin D level, which scientists and doctors now claim enhances your energy and disposition. Plus, time spent alone while planting, weeding, and watering gives you the opportunity to think, pray, meditate, even sing, if you’re so inclined. (In fact, this is one of the few times I can sing without threat of dramatic, eye-rolling protests on the part of my husband and kids.)
  4. You’ll be more aware. To grow a garden is akin to embarking on a spiritual journey. Your labor and sacrifice will bring, if not enlightenment, at least increased awareness of the world around you. As a result, your perceptions and attitudes will be changed for the better. For instance, consider the earthworm. A non-gardener mindlessly drives over the poor creature when it appears on the driveway after a rain; a gardener, however, carefully relocates it to the safety of the lettuce patch. (Don’t scoff; my kids actually do this.) And, if gardening can help us appreciate the worth of an earthworm, imagine how it can influence our attitudes about the weather (rain is desirable), the environment (table scraps belong in a compost bin, not a landfill), and our connection to the world (we’re all in this together). Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness is the first step to change.
  5. You’ll help stop global warming. Many people feel that global warming is too big a problem to deal with; they throw up their hands and ask what they can possibly do to make a difference - and then drive away in their gas-guzzling monster truck. Here’s my suggestion: plant a garden (then trade in the truck). Don’t use petroleum- and chemical-laden fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides; an organic garden is better for the earth. Find a locally owned, socially conscientious gardening center to be your source for supplies and advice. Freeze, can, or store what you can’t eat fresh, so you won’t be tempted, in the middle of January, to buy tasteless tomatoes, asparagus, or strawberries shipped from Mexico.
  6. You’ll build bonds with your family. Gardening can be one of the most rewarding activities you can do with your loved ones. Family members of all ages can get involved at every stage, from planning to prepping to planting to pruning to picking. And when those first green buds push their way through the earth; or the first fresh salad is served for dinner; or that first, ripe cherry tomato gets popped into an eager mouth; it’s a shared celebration. The bonus is that children are more likely to eat - and appreciate - what they’ve helped to grow. Our dogs, however, are another story. Because of their tendency to indiscriminately pee on anything botanical, we’ve erected a fence to keep them in the inedible section of the yard.
  7. You’ll build bonds with your neighbors. Nothing builds good feelings between you and your neighbors more than sharing food, whether it means inviting them over for an impromptu vegetarian supper and a pitcher of mojitos, or delivering to their doorstep a large bouquet of lettuce with roots still covered in dirt, or surprising them with a holiday gift of canned tomatoes, peppers, or pickles. They’ve seen you hard at work in your garden, (maybe even heard you singing,) so they can truly appreciate the thought – and effort – behind your generosity. Then they’ll be less likely to complain when you’re running the rototiller at 8:00 a.m. some Sunday morning.
  8. You’ll earn a sense of accomplishment. Wall Street Journal columnist Jared Sandberg recently wrote about the connection between job satisfaction and tangible results. “In the information age, so much is worked on in a day at the office but so little gets done. In the past, people could see the fruits of their labor immediately: a chair or a ball bearing produced. But it can be hard to find gratification from work that is largely invisible, or from delivering goods that are often metaphorical.” Creating a garden, on the other hand, provides a sense of accomplishment like almost nothing else. With a garden, the “fruit of your labor” is more than just an expression; in many cases, it actually is fruit.

Have I missed any? If you have your own garden, you can probably think of a few benefits to add to this list. Write and let me know how growing your own has changed your life for the better, and you may see your words in a future post.

If you haven’t been bitten by the gardening bug - yet - I hope you now have a new reason or two to consider it. In the meantime, if you’d like some home-grown lettuce, let me know; we’ve got more than we can possibly eat.

This post was proudly submitted to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays.