When you can buy food at almost any store, why would you want to bother growing it yourself?
There’s no denying that gardening is dirty work in its truest sense. It requires dedication and commitment, and it takes days, weeks, and even months before you can taste the rewards of your efforts. Our society often tells us that it doesn’t make sense to do something yourself when you can pay someone else to do it for you. Here are a few reasons why growing a little (or a lot) of your own food is worth the time.
Do you know where your food comes from? Do your children know where it comes from? (And I don’t mean the refrigerator.) Yesterday I watched my son sit in his grandma’s strawberry patch, eagerly observing the green plants and waiting for strawberries to appear. I had told him he would have to wait a while for the strawberries to grow, and he was exercising all the patience a 3-year-old could muster! Whenever I pull the shredded zucchini from our freezer, he reminds me that we got it from our garden. Zucchini happens to be one plant I always manage to grow prolifically (and I’ll bet you can, too.)
When you grow your own food, even a small pot of herbs in the windowsill, you become aware of the intricate process that must occur for the plant to thrive and produce. A variety of variables must happen correctly—water, light, and nutrients must all reach the plant in proper balance. If you’re gardening in the outdoors, you’ll become painfully aware of the effects of weather on your precious greenery, not to mention insects and wildlife. You come to realize that it’s no accident or stroke of luck when food makes it to your table, or to the supermarket shelves. Growing our own food helps quell our expectation of instant gratification and increases gratitude for the abundance we enjoy.
Many of us live in a time of plenty, when we don’t have to doubt whether the local stores will have the food we need on a daily basis. What would happen if our stores could no longer supply food, for whatever reason? If someone handed you a packet of seeds, could you make it grow into something edible?
Before the industrial revolution, settlers carried seeds to new frontier lands, counting on their ability to supply the nourishment necessary for survival by planting those seeds and harvesting the results. In spite of the complexity of our economy and the remarkable advances in technology and science, our produce and grains still originate from seeds that are planted, nourished, and harvested. This natural order will remain in place until the advent of replicators (a la Star Trek.)
If you learn to garden, you’ll have the basic skills to provide your own sustenance in time of need (although I hope that will never be necessary.)
Those precut green beans at the grocer might buy me an hour to watch a movie or play a game with my kids. But am I really doing myself and my kids a favor? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for watching movies and playing games in moderation. An hour weeding and watering the garden, though, gets us working together as a family and spending time out-of-doors. My parents made my siblings and me help with the weeding, rock-digging, and watering growing up, and though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I do now. Even my small children can help with tasks like moving rocks and watering, and pulling weeds with some guidance. My children are at an age when they would much rather be outside playing in the dirt than doing anything in the house. Kids and adults have an inherent need for work. And besides, that movie will be so much more enjoyable when you’re worn out from digging in the garden!
In our day-to-day lives, many of the consequences of our actions aren’t very tangible. Good work at school is rewarded (or poor work punished) by marks on paper. Good work in our occupations is generally rewarded by a larger number on our paycheck (at least we hope).
In the garden, we can see and touch the results of our actions. A plant that isn’t watered will shrivel and die. Weeds that aren’t pulled will choke out our vegetables. A loved and cared-for garden will deliver the fruits of our steady labors with ripe and juicy fruits and vegetables. This kind of work can help children learn that their actions inevitably lead to consequences, good or bad. The lesson in a garden is more clear and direct than seemingly-arbitrary school marks or parent-imposed consequences for breaking or keeping house rules.
I’m saying this a little tongue-in-cheek, but if you’re feeling lonely and don’t want a pet, you might try a plant! It will never argue with you or relieve itself on your carpet. It will only show you its appreciation for your loving care and conversation. Or it might wilt if it doesn’t like you. But probably not.
It’s true that we enjoy a much wider variety of foods than our great-grandmothers did. But while the variety of produce available to us is immense, the quality is generally inferior to what great-grandma might have eaten! Take tomatoes, for instance. I almost never buy fresh tomatoes at the store. You know why? Because they don’t taste good. Even farmer’s markets usually don’t carry tomatoes that taste like the real deal. If there’s one reason on this list that really motivates me to grow a garden, it’s the taste of a homegrown tomato! The only way to get that genuine, sweet and sassy tomato flavor is to grow them yourself or beg them off of someone who does!
The same principle applies to other fruits and vegetables as well. Most homegrown produce outperforms its purchased counterpart in flavor and nutrient count. In addition, you get to control the environment your food comes from. If you aren’t comfortable with pesticides or have specific dietary needs, to can have confidence in the methods that are used to produce your food, because you grew it yourself! You can have organic food without the big price tag if that’s what you want.
Growing some of your own food can save money. It depends on what you grow, how you grow it, and a little bit on luck. An unexpected late-summer hailstorm can definitely do you in. Here are some principles to improve your chances on gardening to cut costs:
Choose plants that grow well from seeds. Some plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, take some special care and technique to start from seeds. The less-experienced gardener (like me), or those who don’t want to bother with seeds, will buy young plants from the store and transplant them to their gardens.
There are many plants that actually grow better from seeds sown directly into soil. Summer and winter squashes, green beans, lettuce, spinach, chard, and carrots are good examples. Onions can be grown from inexpensive sets. Considering that one 50 cent pack of zucchini seeds will produce more zucchini than one family can eat, requires no special equipment or care, and is very easy to grow, you can almost bank on saving money with this vegetable. I rarely find zucchini at the store for less than $1/pound.
On the other hand, I live in a cool, short-season climate, and it is difficult to grow tomatoes without using somewhat-costly protective devices such as walls of water. The tomato plants also do not reach a very large size due to the lack of warm nights and hot days. Thus, the monetary return from growing tomatoes may not be substantial, or I may even lose money if I fail to care properly for the plants, or disaster strikes. I grow tomatoes anyway for reasons stated above.
Freezing or canning excess produce is also a great way to make the most of your harvest and spend less at the grocery store. Green beans, chard, spinach, summer squash, onions, and carrots can all be frozen for later. Winter squashes will stay good on the shelf for several months in a cool, dry place.
I look forward to gardening more than almost any other summer activity. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’re thinking that gardening has to be a huge project, or that you can’t grow your food without any land, stay tuned! I’ll be redefining gardening in an upcoming post to show you how almost anyone can grow their own food.
Linked at: Living Well, Spending Less