Updated: Feb 18
In a world where I can drive ten minutes to the grocery store and buy perfectly clean, spot-free tomatoes and bright green, uniformly-sized greens, and scrubbed, spotless potatoes for less than $20, why did I just spend an hour bent over my garden, hands in the dirt, to harvest funny-shaped, nibbled tomatoes, greens, and potatoes instead? Why would anyone do that?
Family-size gardens are great for the planet because they provide households with fresh, ultra-local produce that requires no packaging and no shipping. If done well, gardening in your own backyard can save you money and help you to reap lots of other rewards as well. Here’s why I garden…
Reason #1: My kids know where our food comes from.
My kids have spent countless hours in the garden with me over the years, planting, weeding, and harvesting. They can identify a tomato plant when it is three inches high and know whether the root vegetable they are about to pull is a carrot or a parsnip. They know the difference between a beneficial insect and a garden pest and my oldest knows how to attract or dissuade each kind. Even my two-year-old knows when a tomato or a pepper is ready to be picked and what basil looks like.
Not only will the knowledge allow them to grow their own food someday, but it also gives them an appreciation for their food. They are 100% more likely to snack on a carrot, snap pea, or even mustard greens if they just picked it themselves and they are very aware that wasting food means wasting time, energy, and resources because they know what goes in to growing food.
My youngest harvesting herbs for our tomato sauce in one of our square foot gardens. To the right is our big garden (the bed on the left is butternut squash, the right is kale, peppers, and cover crop, in the back you can just make out the tomatoes.
Reason #2: I know what is in our food.
I don’t have to wonder what strange additives or chemicals are in our food because I know this farmer very intimately and I know she would never put that stuff into her kids’ food. When I prepare sauces, soups, and preserves from our garden, I also know the food from our freezer and pantry is safe. And preparing food this way instead of buying fancy organic food from the store saves me a lot of money.
When I pull out cubes of soup from the freezer, I can feel confident giving them to my children. Plus, we can talk about all the veggies we grew over the summer over a bowl of tomato soup in the winter.
Reason #3: Gardening is great exercise.
I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I am not a fan of exercising for the sake of exercise. I much prefer to do things the hard way and get my exercise while I reseed my lawn, weed my garden, and cut up a hundred tomatoes for sauce (don’t think that’s exercise…. try it!). Riding my bike to the community garden every day, digging, planting, watering, harvesting, wrestling with mugwort, and walking around to admire everyone else’s gardens gives me plenty of exercise and I don’t have to change into spandex or touch gym equipment. Plus, research shows that gardening is excellent for your health, even before you factor in all the healthy produce you’ll be eating.
Preparing the bed for garlic, planting it, watering and weeding it, and finally harvesting… it may not sound like exercise, but it is. exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise is my favorite kind.
Reason #4: I spend a lot of time outside.
Gardening keeps me active and it ensures I get fresh air daily. Even if I’m just checking to see if my watermelon seeds sprouted, the garden is always calling me outside and away from the distractions of modern life. And every time I run out to fill our salad bowl with greens, I am reminded of how wonderful Nature is and how grateful I am to be part of this world (okay, sometimes I just dodge past the mosquitos and grab the greens). We all know getting fresh air is important for our minds, bodies, and souls, and the garden helps you fulfill that gift to yourself.
Gardening also keeps me in touch with the changing seasons and weather in a way I didn’t anticipate. I have begun to think of certain weather as planting or harvesting weather and certain months remind me to plant or harvest certain crops. I have begun to notice which vegetables are available at the same time for cooking purposes and I am beginning to try to stretch my growing seasons.
Reason #5: I eat healthier.
There is nothing like a giant bowl of fresh cucumbers on your table to keep you from dialing for take out, especially if you grew and picked them yourself. I find that I eat salads twice as often in the summer, when everything is fresh and green and right outside my door (or down the street). And in the winter, I’m more likely to reach for the soups I prepared myself from our garden vegetables (and froze in our Souper Cubes) when I see the labels (“our squash soup”, “our tomato sauce”, “our basil pesto”).
Salads all summer (it’s free food and so easy). The kids help me prepare food for freezing and storing.
Reason #6: Sharing is caring.
Bringing fresh basil and tomatoes for caprese sandwiches all summer, dropping zucchinis and cucumbers off at friends’ houses, letting neighbors harvest a pumpkin to carve, dropping off extra food at the soup kitchen, serving meals made entirely from our own garden… there is nothing more satisfying then sharing what we grow with friends, neighbors, and strangers. When we share our food with others, it gives us a chance to share our love of gardening too, and hopefully inspire others to pick up some seeds next year.
All the colors and tastes to share!
Reason #7: Oh, the satisfaction!
I cannot begin to tell you how amazing you will feel when you harvest your first homegrown tomato or cucumber. And even those thrills pale in comparison to your first butternut squash, pumpkin, or watermelon. Digging your own potatoes, drying your own garlic for storage, and putting up your own food for the winter… these basic, human tasks are satisfying because they are built into our DNA. Sure, getting a promotion or finishing a big report are satisfying too, but, having done both, I’ll take eating a salad I grew myself any day.The more I grow the more I want to grow. People say gardening is addicting and they are definitely right.
I hope you’ll start gardening next year too. Want to start now? The first step is to prepare your garden bed for next year (or even for fall greens and garlic). For a complete list of what I plant in my vegetable garden, check out this post.