Gardening may seem to many like a hobby of the past. It cannot be done from the comfort of a couch and does not take place in the digital realm — unless you count the millions of video games with a farming component. However, despite the need to get your hands in the dirt, home gardening, and community gardening have some surprising benefits and even serve as a tool to address modern problems.
This piece will outline some of the economic, social, environmental, and health-related advantages provided by cultivating a garden, ranging from the potential to save money on produce, to increasing access to fresh food for those in food deserts, to decreasing individual carbon footprints, to improving physical and mental health through outdoor physical activity and increased Vitamin D.
Gardening Economic Benefits
Beginning with the economic benefits, using a garden to supplement the rising food costs in times of financial insecurity is a long-standing practice. It dates back to World War 1 and the Great Depression, when community gardens, known then in America as victory gardens, were used by families to avoid starvation and malnutrition due to limited resources. About a century later, America faces a similar period of economic distress, where fresh produce is sometimes too expensive for those stuck working for minimum wage.
That being said, growing your vegetables has been shown to have a cost-benefit. A study from the Journal of Extension found that, on average, home vegetable gardens yield $677 worth of produce in a season, after subtracting the initial cost of materials and supplies needed to start the garden. Furthermore, for those who can join a community garden, the benefit would be even more significant because you would buy fewer supplies when a place to plant is provided. Some community gardens also help cut down on the amount of actual labor you have to do for the park by organizing a watering schedule that only requires part-time commitment.
Easy plants for beginner gardeners who don’t want to commit to buying too many supplies are things like squash, zucchini, cucumbers, and peppers, which all can be grown without much special equipment, like tomatoes or peas, which need supports to climb as they grow. The basic tools you can get away with having if you’re looking to garden as cheaply as possible are a spade (or something else to dig with), a planter (unless you have a piece of land to plant on), something to hold water (you can reuse plastic bottles for this), whatever seeds you want, and fertilizer.
Gardening Social Benefits
Moving on, just as gardening can address the economic pressures of this period, it can also be an answer to another modern problem; food insecurity. Food insecurity and food deserts describe areas, typically cities, where access to fresh and affordable food is minimal. Living under these conditions can quickly lead to adverse health conditions in residents, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Moreover, this issue predominantly affects low-income and minority communities; a disturbingly low 8% of Black Americans live in a census track with a supermarket, just 1/4 of the 31% of white people with the same privilege, according to Teaching Tolerance.
However, this is where gardening can assist many individuals; by growing your plants, you can guarantee easy access to affordable produce. For example, in one 2009 study, households that began using community gardens increased their vegetable intake significantly; the percentage of adults who reported eating vegetables “several times a day” increased from 18.2% to 84.8%, for children, it increased from 24.0% to 64.0%
Furthermore, Ron Finley, founder of the Ron Finley project, which was created to address the food desert in South Central Los Angeles he grew up experiencing firsthand, shared the following thoughts about how teaching these communities to garden can help them fulfill their needs.
“Gardening shows people the alchemy that they can grow fresh food right out of the ground. It gives people the power to develop a life skill to feed themselves and others. This has the opportunity to create jobs, launch businesses, and limit incarceration rates as people see they have the power to live the life they’ve always wanted.”
Gardening Environmental Benefits
Next, the environmental benefits of gardening are probably one of the best aspects of the hobby. Everyone is aware of the growing pressure to do their part in environmental conservation efforts as global temperatures continue to rise and weather events become increasingly extreme. Gardening is a great way to make your contribution to the fight against climate change while also reaping all of the personal benefits we’ve already discussed, like saving money or gaining access to fresher produce.
Specifically, growing just some of your food in a home garden will help increase soil carbon and decreases your carbon footprint as an individual by cutting out emissions released during food packaging, refrigeration, and transportation. Put simply, when you garden, you add nutrients to the soil and have a cleaning effect on the environment, rather than negatively impacting the environment, like what happens with the unwitting environmental consequences tied into buying produce from a grocery store.
Additionally, a Washington State University study also cites the environmental benefits of growing flowering plants to attract pollinators like bees and other insects to address the declining bee population in the US. Suggested plants use fragrant herbs such as “lavender, basil, mint, borage, sage, thyme, oregano, onion, sunflower, and rose.”.
Gardening Health Benefits
Lastly, if all the other reasons aren’t enough to inspire you to garden, it also benefits the mental and physical health of its patrons. For example, the physical work required in the garden is demanding and will almost certainly have you breaking a sweat, especially under the summer sun. UNC Health research indicates a benefit to cardiovascular health from the physical act of gardening, making it an excellent activity for people starting to worry about heart disease or high blood pressure.
Additionally, it physically improves the body by providing it Vitamin D, both through being in the sun during the planting, growing, and harvesting processes and through the food that you’ll get to eat; fresh produce is an excellent source of Vitamin D. This nutrient helps your body absorb calcium, one of the main building blocks for strong bones. Together with calcium, Vitamin D prevents the development of osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones and makes them more likely to break.
On the other hand, from a mental health perspective, gardening is also very beneficial. The Mayo Health Clinic cites that the routine and accomplishable goal created by gardening, as well as the light exercise it incorporates, leads to feelings of reduced stress and anxiety for people who practice it. This makes it a good hobby for people struggling with mental health and self-worth issues; it’s very gratifying harvesting your food.
In fact, I garden myself and can attest to the mood benefits that come from being in the garden; as a college student, it's something easy you can do during your downtime in the summer that will assist you with food costs while also helping you relax and unwind in the fresh air. It was also a great way to make unexpected connections; experienced gardeners are so friendly and happy to offer their assistance.
In conclusion, no matter who you are, there is a reason that gardening at home or in a community plot in summer would be advantageous to you. It can contribute not only to personal health and finance but the betterment of the environment and social issues. The benefits of this activity are overwhelming and backed by concrete scientific evidence; I urge anyone who has never gardened before to try it out this year!
If you’re interested in joining a community garden near you, review your local paper or town website, or social media for any information about if the recreation department sponsors something like that. Otherwise, don’t be afraid to buy some planters and seeds and get your hands dirty; gardening is for everyone!
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