Why Garden Weekend: Impact on the Earth

Note: Okay, I am fully aware it’s not the weekend. I am not even close. It’s Tuesday. In my defense, it’s been a crazy week. I have been in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Indianapolis, Atlanta (Georgia, not Indiana– there is such a thing), West Lafayette, Lexington, and our little town… all in the last seven days. So, while I have been logging all those miles I felt like a great thing to write about for this week’s Why Garden Weekend would be how my food is not.

In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver writes, “If every US citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.”

When I read this statement for the first time it kind of blew my mind.

I knew that my food in Indiana, especially in the winter, obviously had to come from some warmer climate. But, I guess I didn’t realize the impact all this traveling has on fossil fuels, pollution and the planet.

We joke that my mom was “green before it was cool.” She was way into recycling. Food was not thrown away. It was eaten and left over’s became lunch. And if it wasn’t, it was composted, thrown in the woods or put down the disposal. Our school lunches never graced a brown bag. Instead, I had a purple, sparkly lunch box full of mix matched, wanna be Tupperware (ie. reused Parmesan cheese or cole slaw containers).

Because of my upbringing, I have always been kind of aware of the impact I make on the globe. I have never been a huge fan of bottled water and often am carrying around a reusable bottle everywhere I go. (At least when I plan correctly… See also: Weekend blog posts posted on Tuesday.) When I finally began doing my own grocery shopping I invested in some reusable bags and love using those. And I still use a reusable lunch box. (This new one is pink.)

It doesn’t seem like much, but it was a good start. And until recently, I knew these were things that I could do to minimize my footprint on the planet.

Then we had a garden and I realized I can do so much more to help the earth in my own backyard.

Our food doesn’t travel thousands of miles to our table or guzzle a ton of fuel. It is just a few steps off our back patio.

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Our food is rarely wasted. It is composted and put back in the earth to make more great food.

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Our food isn’t wrapped in plastic or put into tin cans. It’s processed in reusable Ball canning jars or picked straight off the vine with no need for a cardboard crate.

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Gardening has also made me even more aware of how precious the earth is thanks to being able to see what it can produce. I want to help conserve it. I want to keep it green and beautiful.

I love that gardening has given me this awareness and this power to reduce my impact.

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Why Garden Weekend: Health

It’s no secret that vegetables are good for you. And when you have a well maintained garden, you’ll have a ton of vegetables.

Adam took this picture last August... So many veggies!

Adam took this picture last August… So many veggies!

I found that with a bowl of fresh cherry tomatoes on the counter, I am far less likely to even think about wanting to eat chips or candy. I want to eat the food that I grew. And, since you can’t grow a cheeseburger or chocolate bar, I am eating far more vegetables than I ever had since we started gardening.

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But, what might be even more of a secret is how good well maintained, backyard garden vegetables are for you.

Adam and I follow organic practices in our garden. Not because it’s “chic” and not because we are trying to avoid conventionally raised vegetables. We will likely never be certified organic, but that’s okay. We do it because we believe that food should be in its most authentic state, at least in the backyard. Tomatoes don’t need chemically infused fertilizers or pesticides. They need a little attention and some manual labor so that they can grow the way they were intended to. (Not to mention, in a backyard garden, organic practices are cheaper.)

Granted, when growers are producing far more tomatoes than I could even imagine in order to feed the planet, they need a little help in keeping diseases, weeds, and pests at bay. Enter the conventional vegetable.

And man, is there ever a debate about organic versus conventional food. Adam and I don’t even agree on everything.

One thing we do agree on is that if you are feeding your family vegetables, that is great. So few children, and adults, are eating nutrient rich vegetables that are grown with both conventional and organic practices.

Now, is one more nutritious than the other?

The jury is out on that one. There are tons of studies trying to prove organic is better than conventional or that there isn’t a difference, etc.

And, admittedly, I am not smart enough to even begin to try to prove one way or another. (I got my Bachelors in Hospitality for a reason… No science classes were involved.)

One thing I do know is that nutrient values are at their peak right when they are harvested. So, if you are in Indiana it may be better for you to get conventionally grown vegetables from the producer down the road versus organic vegetables from California that will have to travel for a few days.

Another thing Adam and I agree on: Buying local foods. It supports your community, and vitamins and antioxidants are more likely to get to your table.

So, in short, by gardening in my backyard, I know I am getting a vegetable full of the most nutrients possible.

But there are so many other reasons why gardening is good for your health outside of what you put into your mouth.

A big one is the physical activity involved with gardening. Gardening ranges from low intensity exercises, like weeding, to high intensity, like heavy lifting. Because there are so many different types of activity involved with gardening it is considered a full body workout.

Planting is considered a low impact gardening activity.

Planting is considered a low impact gardening activity.

The app “My Fitness Pal,” first of all, considers gardening activity. (It is still yet to recognize Pure Barre…) And second, says that for sixty minutes of general gardening I would burn 268 calories.

But, the amount of nutrients the vegetables produce or the number of calories burned may not even be the biggest health benefit of gardening. There are countless mental health benefits. (For the record: I like these reasons even more than the arguments for good nutrition and physical activity.)

The moving is good for your brain and happiness, but so is being outside. Breathing fresh air and soaking up a little Vitamin D helps you sleep better and feel more positive.

It may sound a little crazy… or “crunchy” or “Zen” (…I guess I’ll take Zen), but I love how working in the garden makes me feel more connected to the earth. Having a garden lets me get my hands dirty. Use all my senses with nature. I get to smell the vibrant herbs, feel the soil, and see the changes in a plant as it grows.

My job has me connected to screens, phones, and the road all day long so not only is working in the garden a major stress reliever, it brings me back to the basic elements. Earth. Air. Water. Warmth from the sun.

It reminds me through it’s simplicity that the world is beautiful.

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