Everyone can turn a deeper shade of green

This blog is dedicated to all those looking to deepen their green--whether you are making a commitment to a greener lifestyle and need help taking the first steps or whether you're already a practicing tree hugger who is looking for practical advice on what steps to take next. Over the years, I've heard all the good intentions and all the excuses. I've also seen my fellow environmentalists sabotage the good intentions of others. I am making a commitment to you, dear reader, wherever you fall on the spectrum, to help you take the next steps to fulfilling your commitment to the earth, to your health, and to your well-being. Stay tuned for articles and interviews.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gardening is for everyone!

Since my last post, I've been busy in gardens, hauling plants, pulling weeds, building beds, and planting. We also took a 10 day vacation and I've thought a lot about my bees...more on them later this week.

Country Club Heights Community Garden
Today, I'm going to tell you why I think you should start growing some of your own food.

1. It's rewarding to enjoy the (literal) fruits of your labor. Knowing that you are able to provide for your needs in such simple and direct way is part of the reward. The other part is having the freshest and tastiest produce you will ever eat. My soon-to-be brother-in-law often tells me that he got excited about gardening after coming to NC for my wedding. As my family was helping me prepare the back yard for the reception, we decided to grill out and I asked if we wanted to have a salad to go with it. "Sure" everyone replied and without really thinking about it, I grabbed my kitchen shears and my colander and went into the garden, cut a bowl full of greens and a couple of late radishes. Bud said that moment changed the way he thought about his food. I say give it a try--it's good for your health.

There are studies coming out that show that each hour your produce is out of the ground it loses nutrients. (I'll track down some links to add here) Even if you pick one vegetable to plant and eat just after you harvest, it could benefit your overall nutrition. And while that is a great goal, I think the emotional and psychological benefits are equally great and equally beneficial to your overall health. Take a look at the garden pictured above.  It's a community garden built just down the street from me on land that was reclaimed by the city after severe flooding.  When they bought out peoples homes to tear down, the community joined together and asked for the opportunity to garden on the land. The city gave the land over to parks and rec who set up a garden and today 50 families have gardens here, including at least one family who are gardening in what used to be their front yard! How's that for rewarding?

A compost "rap" by one of the 2nd graders from Trinity Episcopal School--our junior master composter trainees at Little Sugar Creek Community Garden

2. It's not as hard as it looks. If it were hard, our society wouldn't look the way it looks now--we'd still be hunter-scavenger-gatherers. I have to credit Henry Owen, my co-worker at Friendship Gardens, with this observation. I mean, I've certainly thought about some version of this as I spent many years talking to college students about the origins of agriculture. Without agriculture, we'd still be moving our families with the seasons. Even with the emergence of agriculture, we used to have a lot more people living off the land. Sadly, our society has grown disconnected from nature and from the knowledge of where our food comes from. It's not rocket science, but growing food IS the kind of science that reminds us of our connection to the environment and it's the kind of science that gets kids excited about science. I may be biased, but I see that as a good thing.

3. You don't have to meet all your dietary needs from your garden.  Start small. Stay small. Garden in a planter or a 5-gallon bucket.  I started with herbs and I know plenty of people who only grow herbs to toss into recipes.  Part of my motivation to expand was driven by the desire to save money on organic produce, so peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant are my staples. I still shop at farmers market and the grocery store. You're not going to save the planet by growing your own food, but there are benefits to your health and your community, even if you grow just one plant. I'll share more on these benefits in a later post.

My neighbor's front yard garden. Using the "square foot garden" technique. Yeah for neighborhoods without restrictive covenants! Yeah for front yard gardens!
4. You can do it anywhere. When I lived in an apartment with a balcony back in 1996 I started my first garden as an adult--a decorative plastic pot of mixed herbs I bought at Madison's amazing farmer's market (just found out I still have that pot and plan to refill it with herbs on my deck).  I also planted some lettuce in a second pot.  Soon after that I was trying all kinds of things. I've had plants in my front yard, back yard, in a community garden plot, on a balcony, and on top of my dryer!
The COOP garden at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte is in a parking lot!

The students at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte have mastered the technique of growing in 5 -gallon pickle buckets.  The haven't quit there, though.  They are apparently out to prove that you can grow food, literally--anywhere.
Those crazy kids at JWU!
So, get outside and plant something. It's easy...and you'll be glad you did.


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