All of us gardeners, aspiring and experts alike, have felt the same whirlwind of emotions at some point. Mass confusion over how to begin or what to do next, leading to frustration when you don’t figure it out, leading then to helplessness and nearly throwing in the spade or just putting off starting your garden ‘til next weekend… again. I have honestly felt this way – before I started gardening – and I’m sharing this somewhat embarrassing, dramatic story (personality trait?) with you because I know there’s at least one other aspiring gardener out there going through what I did. Maybe it’s you. (Affiliate links present in this post)
We long to dig into our patches of earth, to plant seeds, to feel connected to our environment. We simply want to feed ourselves and our loved ones wholesome food, and to have a sweet taste of our own self-sufficiency, and create something truly beautiful with our own two hands…
…But we stress ourselves out by trying to control way too much of it. And with the thousands of books to read, the countless schools of gardening thought, and the internet (the internet!) it’s all so overwhelming not knowing where to begin. That feeling is absolutely synonymous with being at the mercy of Mother Nature and her woes while living in a world of information overload.
Word of advice: Allow yourself to control just one less thing in your life, and let it be your garden.
My main reason for starting Heirloom Soul is to clear up all the confusion about organic gardening and summarize everything you truly need to know to grow food successfully in one website. My theories and methods about growing food have been gathered from only the best sources, along with hundreds of my own diverse growing experiences.
I know, more than ever, that you need as much encouragement along the way as your plants do. You need a solid reminder that all the time, blood, sweat (and tears? anyone?) is absolutely worth it! More than you can imagine. Here are 6 reasons why.
1. To Improve Your Internal Health (Healthy Soil = Healthy Human)
It’s common knowledge that the convenient world we live in is causing us major health issues. Our widening waistlines, heart disease, and Type II diabetes among a myriad of other problems are directly related to the rise of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, big agriculture and the processed food movement; however, I am not going to delve into that here (if you are unaware of the effects of our food system on our health, or just want to know more about it, I suggest reading either of Michael Pollan’s fantastic books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals or In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto).
The answer to our food-related health problems: We need to take more time considering the sources of our foods. And by that I don’t just mean the country it’s from, or even the farm it’s grown on – I mean we need to know the health of the soil our food is growing in.
This is a seemingly involved statement, but it’s quite simple, really: We have full control over the nutrient content of our food when we grow it ourselves.
The Soil Food Web is the number one health-related reason why I grow my own food. By feeding the living microorganisms in our soils, we can produce the most nutritionally-dense, colorful, flavorful (and organic!) fruits and vegetables that are packed to the brim with every vitamin, amino acid, and phytonutrient that is supposed to be there. I say “supposed” because most of our food is deficient in nutrients, flavor and even color, due to monocropping, pesticides and commercial fertilizers that have degraded the soils on our farms. When you grow your own food, you have the opportunity to feed your own soil microorganisms a balanced diet so that they may deliver the maximum amount of nutrients to your plants.
Another amazing relationship between the health of humans and soil (I love this one): Some people are living proof that we gardeners tend to have more microflora and -fauna in our guts, which helps prevent sickness and aid in our digestion. As we dig into the soil and taste our food straight out of it, we introduce a plethora of healthy bacteria through our nose and mouth. These little guys are literally nature’s probiotics! Our soil is our lifeblood and has so many amazing abilities to take care of us, as long as we take care of it.
2. To Be More Active, and Feel Better, No Matter Your Fitness Level
- Gardening is seriously hard work. If you haven’t dug your shovel in quite yet, just wait – you’ll be amazed the positive effects it has on your health once you do. During the growing season, my body feels fully awake and blood irrigated with oxygen from all the subconscious stretching I do. My most common garden moves: bending at the waist with legs spread wide, stretching my arms either across rows or above my head, and deep squatting (it’s truly a sight to see). Lets not forget the shoveling and wheelbarrowing that gets your blood pumping from head to toe (and legs toned for days!)
Gardening is amazing low-impact exercise, and on a hot, humid day, your body will sweat all the toxins right out. Honestly though – remember that hot, sunny days can be dangerous. Drink more water than you think you need (I am constantly working on this), and always, always wear sunscreen cause the ozone is just fierce (this sunscreen seriously works).
3. To Have a Happier Mind and a More Meaningful Life (heavy stuff)
To garden is to connect our inner selves with our outer natural environment. Growing food from seed teaches us to have patience, to listen, to give something all of our attention, to be mindful of our actions, and to have appreciation for the effort it takes to grow one single carrot, or a head of lettuce. Our perception begins to shift. Food commodities that we mindlessly picked up off the shelf in the supermarket (perfectly shaped with flawless skin and bumps in all the right places, not unlike airbrushed models on the checkout aisle magazines) suddenly, to us, become saddeningly lackluster; while their homegrown counterparts become time-honored works of art, covered in soil and muck, sometimes holey, sometimes with an odd wart or two. And not everyone will understand the obsession you have for your homegrowns, but that’s okay, because you have transformed into a more loving, accepting human.
What’s more precious is gardening with a child. Their fascination with different shapes and colors of seeds and blossoms is a reminder of our own tendency as adults to take these simple miracles for granted. The garden has the ability to positively influence and calm a child’s mind. I’ve witnessed children who absolutely refuse to eat vegetables, revel in eating their own that they’ve grown. I’ve worked with children who are disgusted by dirt, who come out to the garden wearing big gloves and long sleeves, diligently refusing to touch the soil. Weeks later, with a dose of sunshine and positive reinforcement, they are coaxed out of their protective shells and stick their hands straight into wormy, wet soil.
As two embryonic leaves of a germinated seed pop through the soil’s surface, arms up high reaching for sunlight and whatever may come, we realize it is not unlike a child’s innocent heart spread wide open, ready to experience the world and accept its givings in her own way.
The garden is a place of discovery, growth and transformation – a place where we realize ourselves as nothing more than small parts of a whole, so simple we are yet so complex living within nature’s infinite perfection.
4. To Support a Sustainable Food System
As the United States moves closer to a fully-globalized food system, it’s important to ask ourselves where we, as individuals, fit into it. Or rather, how do we want to fit into it. And from there, how do we choose to fit into it. Most of the fruits and vegetables in the supermarket, organic or not, are shipped to us from other countries. Obvious fact. Next time you pull off all the sticker labels on your food, give them a look – most likely they will read Mexico, Chile, Peru, or some other foreign country with a warm-ish climate. Not only do these imported foods lack nutrients from the depleted soils they grew in, but in order for fresh foods to be shipped across the world they must be picked hard as rocks before they are ripe, and only then treated with ripening chemicals and colorants to help them appear more ripe to us in the store. Eventually all of our fresh foods (and processed foods, for that matter) will be globally sourced as our country chooses to support Big Ag, utilizing our farmland to grow corn and soy largely for the production of animal feed and alternative fuels, rather than food for us to eat.
Food globalization is a domino-effect of a problem. When we choose to eat from across the world foods that we could eat locally, we increase our food miles – that is, the distance our food travels from farm to plate. In this ongoing global food exchange, we needlessly deplete our planet’s natural resources, including the most obvious: water and oil. Deforestation, climate change and our health in decline are all treacherous aftereffects of this mindless agricultural system. Many people believe our globalized food system is a solution to feed people across the world, when really, that’s just not true. There are more hungry people, and more food is being wasted, than ever before.
Choosing to grow your own food in your own backyard is the strongest proclamation against industrialized food that we, as individuals, can make. Some of us are moved by these moral dilemmas, and some of us are not – that’s how society goes. I don’t believe that we as organic food growers should condemn other individuals for their personal choices; however, we can, as a collection of impassioned citizens, choose to condemn the corrupt system by growing our own. In the process, we will inspire others to do the same.
5. To Create a Beautiful, Powerfully Communal Space in Your Home
Your organic food garden is your answer to the unfortunate, neglected yard covered in unkempt crabgrass that you inherited from the people who lived there before. Should you be blessed with a beautiful yard already (you lucky duck!), your garden will provide a bright burst of energy in your space as it attracts colorful butterflies and hummingbirds, buzzing bees, and other curious animals of the yard.
Food gardens, interplanted with a myriad of companion flowers, are full-color spectrum. Blossoms burst with vivid pinks, oranges, yellows, reds, purples, and ivories. Foliage glistens in one thousand incandescent shades of green. Your garden is a social space, and as it grows, so will positive relationships with your neighbors, children, and extended family and friends who ask to come over for a garden tour, or special dinner prepared from everything you grew yourself. Your garden is a space where you will learn valuable new skills (and life lessons, I swear!) to share with other people and pass down to your children.
Grow an organic garden and your yard will become the focal point of your home. Any space that is lived and learned in is far more beautiful than a space that goes untouched.
6. Because the Next Few Months Will Go By Whether You Start Your Garden or Not
Perhaps the simplest advice for starting anything new is this, yet it is so hard for us to grasp. There’s always next month, or next year, but why not challenge yourself now? What better things do you really have to do other than this thing you long to do so badly? When gardening, the best way to learn is by doing – I am proof of that as I do not have any academic training in horticulture or agriculture.
Start your garden, and you will succeed. I guarantee you will make mistakes along the way. I guarantee you will consider your thumb brown and shriveled for a day or two, and it might make you question everything you’ve ever been good at. But you will learn so much about your own wants and needs and the meaning of life that you’ll be laughing at your previous self all the way to your compost pile once you give it a whirl.
For help from some wise gardening folk along your way, visit my Resources page.