The Benefits of Gardening!

Maybe I'm preaching to the choir. Or maybe you're really not sure if getting into gardening is for you. Even if someone is a tried and true, long time gardener, reviewing the many benefits of gardening can make us feel good about what we're doing. And we may see points that we can share with others, helping them to see the true value of growing your own!

GAINING MOMENTUM: Gardening, urban farming, homesteading and permaculture. They are all experiencing a rise in popularity, especially in the US where our predecessors had turned their backs on food growing. But today in many of our communities we are seeing a revitalization. Community gardens continue to rise up out of the asphalt offering hope to a new generation!

Perhaps you've noticed this growing revolution & maybe you're even a little interested. At the same time... you're reluctant to try. Something stops you from taking that step and digging in. What's holding you back?

BARRIERS: What are common barriers that will prevent people from gardening?
 • "I don't have the TIME."
 • "Gardening is too much WORK."
 • "I don't have the SPACE to fit a garden."
 • "I don't have the MONEY to buy all that gardening junk."
 • "I have a black thumb. Anything I touch dies."

Let's address some of these barriers. We'll consider good reasons showing why you should garden!

How Gardening Improves Food Quality

It's true. Growing your own food at home can save you money! But there's also an element that is harder to quantify. It's not just about how much you can save. The benefits of gardening include vastly superior food quality.

Why Store Bought Produce is Inferior

UNRIPE: Have you observed a decline in the quality of produce found in stores? Often, fruits and veggies are picked unripe. They are stored for a long time and may be imported from thousands of miles away. You set that peach out on the counter, waiting for it to sweeten up. But these fruits never ripen! They are flavorless, with low brix (sugar) values. Mind you, that's what you can see, smell and taste -what you actually KNOW.

CHEMICALS: Here's what you may NOT know: Certain varieties contain high levels of pesticides and herbicides -even after washing them. And buying them from a farmer's market doesn't necessarily make a difference. Then there is always the pathogen scare. Is this contaminated with e.coli, etc.? (Cantaloupe, Lettuce, Chipotle)

LIMITED VARIETY: Of course, sometimes you can find ripe, safely grown food. But even then, you may observe a very limited variety in fruits and vegetables. That's because grocery produce is selected for optimal shipment and storage life. Some types of strawberries for example are much sweeter than what you'll find at a store. But those varieties bruise easily and spoil more quickly, especially if picked ripe. So they won't ever sell them to you.

Why Home Grown Vegetables Are Better

SUPERIOR QUALITY: Compared to industrial agriculture, the food we grow at home can be vastly superior. We can control the use of pesticides, growing completely organically. We can maintain proper sanitation practices eliminating foodbourne illness. Picking by hand means no damage from mechanical harvesting. We can learn to pick fruit when RIPE, at its peak flavor.

Video: I Hafta Pea Tasting Garden Grown Peas!

Once you've tasted fresh peas from a garden, you'll never go back!

NO LOSS IN NUTRIENTS: Once picked, fruits and veggies can be eaten that SAME day. That means NO loss in freshness, nutrition or flavor! Although some food nutrients like iron and fiber tend to hold up as produce ages, other nutrients break down quickly. Anti-oxidants like Vitamin C are sensitive to heat, light and oxygen. Thus, levels decline in harvested produce as it sits, waiting for consumption. Vitamin B and polyphenolic compounds will degrade as well. That gives backyard gardening a significant advantage over our commercial food supply!

UNIQUE HEIRLOOM VARIETIES: Home gardeners are not concerned about which varieties are bred for longest shelf life. We're out in our yards, munching on produce before it ever sees our kitchen! Our veggies don't need to withstand mechanical harvesting. We want flavor! So we are willing to try softer, sweeter varieties (which are not viable as commercial crops).

That means an endless variety of seeds for your garden. You can order special heirlooms. Do you know how many types of peppers there REALLY are!? You can grow veggies with unique shapes, sizes & colors. With a bounty of fruits and vegetables you'll soon find yourself trying new recipes, creating even more variety!

Health Benefits from Gardening

Health benefits from growing a home garden? People make wild health claims. Often the sick and vulnerable are preyed upon as they desperately try to find ANYTHING that might help them. Well gardening isn't some miracle cure for cancer or Fibromyalgia. But when done sensibly, growing your own produce at home can certainly promote a healthier lifestyle.

How Gardening Improves Physical Health

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT: Growing fruits and vegetables can easily result in a surplus. So we eat and eat more and MORE freshly grown veggies. With that, comes improved health.

Consider: The quality of our health depends, in part, on the quality of our food. You can grow pesticide-free, NON-GMO food! You can pick it fresh, ensuring that there is no nutrient loss.

GET MOVING! Beyond the benefits of what we eat, think about benefits of gardening as a physical activity. When we come home from work or school, it can be easy to just sit down and crash. We may be at our PC, tablet, smartphone, video game console or TV. But we sit there and "vege". Did you know that after sitting for 1 hour, your health begins to suffer?

So do you want to be healthy? Then you need to move around! When U garden, you are doing just that. You're on your feet: planting, watering, harvesting and surveying. You move around, burning calories. The blood flows!

Being outdoors (hopefully) will mean U can actually breath some fresh air. If so, this can also boost your health. As you soak up a balanced amount of sunlight this can help with Vitamin D.

How Gardening Improves Mental Health

A BETTER YOU: The combined effect can improve more than just your physical state. More and more research is linking gardening and outdoor activities to improved mental and emotional well-being.

FIGHTING STRESS: Do you feel that your life is becoming less stressful as technology presses forward? Certainly, most of us are more stress out than ever before! As we experience stress, our body responds physically by producing cortisol (a steroid hormone). Cortisol has a proper place in our physiological makeup. But consistently high levels of stress-induced cortisol can wreak havoc on our bodies, impairing immune function and much more.

Fortunately, taking time to garden has been shown to promote relief from acute stress. Researchers have found that 30 minutes of gardening outdoors is even more effective than reading for pleasure. It allows your cortisol levels to balance out as your mood improves.

REFOCUSED ATTENTION: Related to stress is the concept of directed (focused) attention. Psychologists are finding that the human brain has a finite capacity for directed attention. If you have a job that requires prolonged intense focus, do you feel burned out at the end of the day? All day your brain has to actively filter out background distractions and thoughts. This takes its toll until finally you experience directed attention fatigue.

But enjoying scenes of nature and the outdoors has been shown to dramatically improve your state of mind, allowing you to recover from directed attention fatigue. A walk in the park or a stroll through your garden shifts your focus to a state of involuntary (unfocused) attention. This recharges your batteries allowing you to get through the rest of your day without having a meltdown.

Therapy Through Gardening

HEALING POWER OF PLANTS? Yep, that's right! And we're not talking about medicinal treatments, such as with consuming herbal supplements. Rather, there is an actual therapeutic practice known as horticultural therapy (HT). HT is a time-proven practice which has been effective in "a broad range of rehabilitative, vocational, and community settings". According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, "HT helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, HT can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance."

HELP FOR THE ELDERLY: Therapeutic gardens can be of great benefit to the elderly as well. People are finding that indoor gardening can help dementia patients through improved sleep and cognition while reducing agitation. At the NYU Langone Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine gardening helps patients with their recovery. Whether it's stroke, heart attack or epilepsy, horticultural therapy is helping!

Even if no trauma has not occurred, the elderly can truly enjoy gardening at home. It's a great way to keep a retired person active. They can reduce the effects of stress while enjoying a harvest of whole, unprocessed foods!

Timeless Education Through Gardening

A Cure for Your Black Thumb?

Have you ever met one of those "black thumb" people? Are you perhaps one yourself? It's as though certain people are cursed, destined to forever kill any plant they touch. Granted, tobacco users need to be careful around tomatoes, lest they spread tobacco mosaic virus...

"What's this!?" you ask. You never heard of such a thing? You see! Already, you're educating yourself. As we learn, we improve as gardeners. Before long, that "black thumb" has begun to turn GREEN!

Why Gardening is Better Than Technology

But before you start researching and growing as a budding horticulturist, I have a warning for you: Gardening and farming knowledge tends to be TIMELESS, never truly going out of date.

THE TECHNOLOGY HAMSTER WHEEL: I remember when Windows 7 was launched. You had all kinds of things to re-learn. Then Windows 8 went and broke it all (just as you were getting good). Now we see Windows 10 being forced on us. Meanwhile, I'm trying to figure what happened to Windows 9!? How many times have you had to re-learn your cell phone? Are you tired of web browsers moving your buttons and menus!

The point is, technology is just ONE aspect of our modern life that is ALWAYS CHANGING. It may or may NOT be for the better, but it's always DIFFERENT. Our time gets sucked up, trying to keep up. And then once we get it... -BOOM!- reset. Let's start all over. ...a hamster on a wheel.

BUILDING NOT REPLACING: With gardening, the learning process is quite different. You start simple and refine your techniques through practice, trial & error and research. You always find things to learn and new ideas to assimilate. But what you experience is a logical progression. You start with the fundamentals, and then you build. At YOUR pace, in the direction of YOUR choice... you branch out!

Are Humans Meant to Garden?

Gardening isn't some inherited trait that you either have or you don't. It is a basic element of what it means to be human. Today, many modern cultures are experiencing a disconnect. This issue has even led to a field of study called "Ecopsychology".

There is no app for your phone that can replace the simple act of planting a seed, watching it grow and eating its fruitage. Humans are meant to be surrounded by nature. To interact with it. To be taught by it!

Let's take some time to actually look at how broad a gardening education can really be. As we do though, we'll do it within the context of our next reason for gardening:

How Gardening Educates Children

Whether you're a parent, an educator or a mentor, you are likely concerned about the effects this modern world is having on our young children. These young minds are the future, our legacy. But what inheritance are we passing on to them?

Does Technology Make People Dumber?

Let's just look at one single area of innovation: Technology. Have you seen a toddler learning to navigate an iPad or tablet? These young minds are sponges learning not just knowledge, but attitudes & mindsets. Technology has brought many blessings to humanity, but it's come at a price.

Are smart phones making us dumber? Or are they simply making us lazier? In particular, what about patience? Everything is available right now, at our fingertips. No waiting. And no work required. Do you want THAT to be the dominant attitude of your kids? What can temper the "instant gratification" mindset fostered by technology?

Why Gardening Offers Learning Experiences

How can we round out a child's education & personality? In the winter you flip through a catalog & select the seeds you won't actually plant until MONTHS later. You prepare the soil. You plant a seed... and you wait... and wait. Planning. Patience.

Gardening will enhance the values of developing children. It teaches them about real life cause and effect relationships. They learn the value of hard work and the rewards that result. It works because gardening creates a stimulating learning environment that has been shown to outperform traditional classroom settings.

Learning through gardening get results. The general public is slowly catching on and in many places we are seeing programs designed to educate children through the garden setting. The Natural Learning Initiative promotes "the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of all children, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information." The Gardens for Learning grant program "provides a unique opportunity for participating communities to support summer gardening, nutrition, and cooking programs for children at risk of summertime hunger." Are there any programs in your area?

What Types of Skills Does Gardening Teach Kids?

FOOD PRODUCTION: Do you think kids would benefit if they understood where our food comes from? Imagine their excitement as they learn to harvest and then eat healthy fruits and vegetables. Lessons could be taught in preservation and in the cooking of your home-grown produce. Realizing the work that goes into agriculture can foster an appreciation for food resources, curtailing wastefulness.

ECOLOGY: Are you concerned about our environment and the future of our planet? Gardening is the perfect platform for learning conservation and practicing recycling. You can teach a child about the seasons and how they drive the natural life cycles of plants and animals. You help youths to observe the damage caused by climate change. This then underscores the need for sustainable practices.

MATH AND SCIENCE: Gardening provides many hands on training opportunities, perfect for STEM education projects. It builds math skills involving measuring and calculating, and even economics. It allows you to design. To build. Gardeners become science students of Botany, Horticulture & Entomology. Applied knowledge is retained knowledge. It stays with a young mind, exerting an influence well into adult life.

BUILDING RESILIENCY: Do you contend with a fear of gardening failure? When you approach gardening with a scientific mind, failures disappear. We try something. We record what we did. Then we note the results. Good results? Let's do it again! Bad results? Well, that's not a failure. -It's a learning opportunity. Now we know what DOESN'T work!

These are life-long lessons that stay with us. We may learn intellectually, but we also broaden our view of the world around us. We develop traits that can enhance us as human beings. Isn't this a legacy worth passing on?

For in-depth reading about garden-based learning in basic education: