Every year I plant a small vegetable garden, as well as fill several large planter pots with herbs. We have a small backyard, so it's not much of a vegetable garden in terms of size, but each family member's favourite vegetable gets planted, a variety of leafy greens go in, and then there is a bit of space for experimentation. This year's experiment is peppers. Last year's was cauliflower, and they were so big and beautiful that I'm planting them again.
There are so many benefits to growing your own food, with organic and fresh picked being at the top. Nothing rivals the taste of a sun-warmed tomato fresh from the vine, or pulling a carrot straight out of the soil and biting into its crispy flesh. But there are other important reasons to consider gardening.
1. ADDING TO YOUR GUT MICROBIOME
When you pull that carrot straight from your garden and give it a quick wash, some of the soil microbes are still on that carrot. Adding soil-based organisms to your gut increases the microbial diversity of your own gut microbiome, and greater diversity is associated with greater health. Each plant has its own microbiome, but when vegetables get picked and power washed in preparation for store shelves, that microbiome gets washed away. Exceptions would include things like cabbage, where the leaves are tightly packed and water doesn't get past the outer layer of leaves, leaving the microbes inside the cabbage safe and sound. To maximize your own gut microbial diversity, you want to ingest both the microbes from the plants and from the soil they grow in. I should point out that you want to be growing in soil that hasn't had chemicals sprayed on it.
Jeff Leach, who cofounded the American Gut Project, has studied the Hadza population in Africa, specifically in relation to their gut microbiomes. Jeff believes that high fibre content is one of the contributing factors to the Hadza's microbial diversity (Source). The fibre in vegetables from your garden feed all those great organisms, ensuring that they can thrive.
2. STRESS RELIEF
Gardening can be a great way to take your mind off daily stressors. Regular watering and pulling the occasional weed might just be what your busy brain needs to switch gears at the end of a hectic day. The initial stage of gardening requires some effort. You might add compost, organic fertilizer or other nutrients to create good soil, and then you have to plant your seeds or plantings. However, once that has been done, then all your garden asks of you is watering and weeding. It can be incredibly calming and rewarding to take a few moments each day or two to provide your garden with the water it needs, pull a few errant weeds, and to witness shoots emerging from the earth and eventually flourishing to a full sized plant that bears edible roots, leaves or fruits.
3. SOCIAL CONNECTION
Planting a garden is a great thing for parents and children to do together, or for grandparents to do with grandchildren. Not only does it teach a young child where the food that they eat comes from, but it is an opportunity to spend meaningful time together.
Other opportunities for connection include involvement in a community garden or a CSA(Community Supported Agriculture). While having a share in a CSA doesn't actually involve you spending time in the garden, it is a great way to connect with your local farmers. Having a share typically means that each week you meet with a farmer at a designated drop off location (often a farmer's market) to pick up your share of the harvest.
Whether you grow your own food, spend time with loved ones while gardening, or connect with local growers, one of the best ways to connect with loved ones is by sharing a meal made with fresh, local ingredients. Preparing a meal with fresh, local ingredients is a great way to show your love for friends and family - it nourishes bodies and nourishes connections. I like nothing better than a potluck with friends or family where everyone has contributed a wholesome dish to share.
Grounding refers to skin contact with the surface of the earth. Walking barefoot and gardening are great ways to get that contact with the earth. I like to do my gardening barefoot, which means my feet are always dirty, but I always feel like I've been emotionally restored after time spent barefoot on the grass or in the dirt.
The basic idea behind grounding is that the negative ions from the earth counteract positive electrons in the form of free radicals. Free radicals are a normally occurring metabolic product in our bodies, but in high numbers they damage body tissue and contribute to aging, so having strategies to counteract their effects is important to good health.
Research shows that grounding has a positive effect in reducing inflammation and supporting wound healing. (Source)
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Stop by a garden store and pick up some plants or seeds to start your own vegetable or herb garden. Prepare to get your hands and feet dirty.
At the end of the summer, enjoy amazing food that you grew, and that is adding diversity to your gut microbiome.
What is your favourite thing to grow?
Happy, Healthy Gardening!