Spring has sprung and Earth Day is upon us Friday. If you want to go green this year, don’t stop at planting a tree, attending a rally or donating to your favorite conservation fund. Make 2011 the year you move beyond symbolic gestures and engage with the Earth in the most primal, profound and productive way possible: Learn to grow your own food.
People labor to acquire the skills to make a living, yet many neglect the most basic and valuable skill – the ability to feed ourselves. We depend almost completely on others to provide the nourishment that keeps us alive.
When you ponder the implications in an economy that seems to be hanging by a thread, it doesn’t make sense. For this reason among others, people should commemorate Earth Day by vowing to experience firsthand the miracle of growing food.
A survey by the Garden Writers Association revealed that 38 percent of Americans, an increasing percentage under 40, grew some of their own vegetables in 2009. Many coaxed their children to get down and dirty, also. Approximately 37 percent of gardeners plan to expand their gardens this year.
While these numbers are positive, we should reverse the 38 percent to 83 percent. Growing your own food brings a variety of benefits.
• It’s a source of fresh, delicious and wholesome food. Most list the food itself as their primary reason for gardening. Homegrown food is fresher, healthier and tastier, especially if it’s grown organically. It’s closer to what food is supposed to be about. It doesn’t merely keep you alive – it makes life worth living.
• More satisfaction. Seventy-one percent of young people, and at least that many older gardeners, spend hours on hands and knees near earthworms and ants to grow tasty food and earn bragging rights. The urge originates from an ancient, bred-in-the-bone sense of competence and self-reliance that comes from providing something that everyone needs.
Since becoming dependent on supermarkets, Americans have lost these innate feelings – their connection with the first humans who figured out that a little dirt over an apple seed, water and light would produce an apple tree.
• We’re up for downtime, and digging in the dirt supplies it in spades. Gardening’s hard work, but artificial lighting and air, sitting at a computer, multitasking, constant interruptions and other demands have created a stressful way of life.
The Garden Writers’ survey found that 60 percent of young gardeners said yard work relaxed them. Gardeners work on plant-, wind-, sun- and rain-time, not clock-time. Caring for a garden keeps people attuned to life’s leisurely time frames, not frenetic schedules.
• It’s a spiritual thing. The sacred texts of many traditions refer to gardens. Spiritual leaders teach life lessons using gardening metaphors and parables.
Gardening makes us partners in an ongoing creation. And while gardening can be accomplished alone, its pleasures are amplified when shared.
• It keeps us fit. No doubt, gardening is a great way to get fit. Muscle groups you didn’t know you had become toned in the process of digging, turning, hoeing, raking, sowing and weeding.
• Gardening could save your life. Dwindling global resources, climate instability, skyrocketing prices and other red flags point to a future where inexpensive, plentiful and readily accessible food may no longer be available. If store shelves are bare, the ability to grow food becomes a survival skill.
A society connected to its food production is healthier. Considering the relative ease of growing fruits and vegetables in backyards, vacant lots, community gardens and patio containers, there’s no reason not to get your hands dirty.
Gardening takes some skill, but the seeds, soil, earthworms, microbes, rain and sun do most of the work.
Ellen LaConte is author of “Life Rules” (Green Horizon, 2010). For more information, visit www.ellenlaconte.com.