If you have come to this page I probably don’t need to convince you that growing your own vegetables is a good idea. It is an activity can improve your life in many ways.
I love great food and have found that the best way to get it is to grow it myself. One of the great pleasures of the vegetable garden is in eating the best food that can be obtained anywhere. With a little effort you can grow foods that are of exceptional flavor and quality and often simply aren’t available commercially at any price. All serious home gardeners are familiar with the superior flavor of homegrown food, often it is so much better it doesn’t even taste like the same thing. This may be due to the use of superior tasting varieties, because the plant receives better nutrition, because it is a lot fresher, or even occasionally just because you have grown it with your own sweat and muscles in your own home soil (which is still perfectly valid).
Organic food, fresh from your own garden, is the most nutritious there is and it can improve your health significantly. It’s been noticed that domestic animals will usually choose organic food in preference to that grown with chemicals, which suggests they can sense something that we don’t. Organic foods may have more protein, vitamins and minerals to begin with, largely because they aren’t bloated with water to make them bigger (the much vaunted high yields of chemically dependent agriculture are often simply extra water). When you are harvesting from your own garden the food can also be eaten within minutes of picking, before any of their vitamins and other nutrients have started to break down.
Of course organic foods don’t contain any pesticide residues, which is significant because we really don’t know the long-term effects of multiple pesticides in the body (recent studies have shown that the supposedly relatively safe herbicide glyphosphate is much more toxic than previously claimed by its manufacturer). This is particularly important for children, as they consume larger quantities of pesticides in relation to their body weight. Many conventional farmers have an organic garden for their own consumption.
Health is more than just good food of course and the garden helps here too. It is both a pleasant way to relax and one of the best forms of exercise, as it alternates between gentle and fairly vigorous activity (your body functions best when it is used). Working in the fresh air, at your own pace, at a satisfying meaningful activity (growing the food that sustains you), also contributes to psychological health too. Any stress I have soon evaporates when I get out in the garden and among my plants. It’s actually been suggested that a persons stress level is directly related to how close they are to plants; that plants are actually a biological need for humans.
A home vegetable garden can help to lessen your impact on the earth, by reducing your consumption of resources. The food is produced with only a fraction of the energy and water used by commercial agriculture and there are no transportation costs. It also has an impact on the amount of stuff you throw away. You can eliminate the packaging that comes with purchased foods and you can compost your food waste and any soiled paper packaging. You can use rainwater catchment and gray water to reduce the amount of water needed to grow food. An even bigger step would be to recycle human waste though the garden, though this still needs some refining. A system to do this safely would be a momentous step forward in reducing water use and pollution, and in recycling valuable nutrients back to where they can be an asset.
A vegetable garden can save you money. It is said that the average American family spends only 10% of their income on food, so it would seem that growing your own won’t save a great deal. However statistics can be deceptive and at least one third of Americans spend 20% of their income on food. Those statistics are only talking about average food too; if you want to eat high quality organic food then growing it yourself may be the only way to make it economically feasible. Incomes have actually declined for most people in recent years, while vegetable prices have increased, making organic vegetable gardening even more cost effective.
The vegetable garden can also teach you a significant lesson in how money and the good life aren’t synonymous; that you don’t always have to spend money to enjoy yourself. When you get down to the fundamentals, life can actually become richer and more satisfying when you consume less and live more. It can also teach you that physical labor can be rewarding and that life isn’t always about finding ways to avoid working up a sweat (your garden can even replace the gym).
The ability to produce your own food also gives you a measure of psychological security. The number of Americans who remember the last serious economic upheaval is diminishing rapidly, but many of those who do would testify that their vegetable garden was an invaluable buffer against economic crisis. Americans have rarely lived with the threat of not having anything to eat, but in other parts of the world it is an all too frequent reality. I recently read an account of how many city dwelling Russians survived the demise of communism and the resulting economic collapse, by growing food in community gardens. Without this lifeline they would have been in dire circumstances. It is comforting to know that if food ever becomes scarce or very expensive you could always grow your own.
I am not pessimistic by nature, but any thinking person has to have some concern about the future. The economic situation of most Americans has declined since I wrote the first edition of this book and shows little prospect for real improvement. Humans continue to multiply and devour the earths resources at an ever increasing rate. A few large corporations maneuver to take control of the whole worlds food supply. Global warming continues to accelerate much faster than anyone predicted and may be starting to affect food production. All of this leads to the feeling that the future may not be as easy as the recent past and that the ability to feed yourself may one day prove to be an important skill.
I think everyone should be involved in growing some of their own food, simply because it is a part of being a complete human being. Going though life with no real connection to one of the things that keeps you alive is quite perverse, but sadly so commonplace that we don’t even think about it. It’s been said that “gardening is the natural activity of man” and for me that pretty much sums it up. Most people will get interested in growing food if they have the opportunity, because it is real in a way that most everyday activities aren’t. The fact that a small area of soil can keep you alive and well fed is quite astounding and can completely alter your worldview (think about molecules from the soil in your garden becoming molecules of you!) It brings you back to the reality that we are totally and absolutely dependent on the earth (our mother) for our well being, and that we should look after her a little more carefully.
On a higher plane gardening is about using human energy to make a place more productive, more diverse, and biologically richer than it would be otherwise. I find it to be one of the most gratifying and fulfilling activities I do. I love to be out in the garden, nurturing the land and bringing crops to fruition. If you garden long enough you will even begin to understand what is meant by the expression “the garden cultivates the gardener”.