Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you can just have them plant a garden.
– Robert Brault
Once upon a time a good portion of society spent their days growing and producing food. In fact, in times of war, as resources were thin and supply lines were choked, it is estimated that home gardens were supplying 40% of the produce we consumed. Over the decades, as urbanization began to take root, a disconnect with our food slowly crept in to the point where if you were to ask kids today where their food comes from their first thought would likely be Costco.
But in recent times there has been a growing trend to becoming more self-sufficient as the rise of the backyard garden has taken hold. As researchers highlight the link between emotional well-being to one’s sense of accomplishment, the onus is on us to find those activities that fulfill that need. And few activities in life are so universal in creating a sense of accomplishment as growing your own food.
As we have become dependent on the global transportation network in place we sometimes take for granted the fact that in a country like Canada we have access to fresh produce year-round. Just visit any grocery store that happens to be randomly sold out of broccoli in December and witness the frustration of shoppers firsthand. Yet our privileged access to produce grown on another continent has a downside as we risk isolating the art of agriculture that our ancestors worked so hard to perfect.
Fundamental to our emotional well-being, researchers have discovered that through the activity of gardening, Mother Nature has a built-in antidepressant that shouldn’t be ignored. Be it the feeling of nurturing, the routine physical activity of tending to plants, or exposure to the mood enhancing Vitamin D while spending time in the sun, we can all benefit by getting back to our roots.
Backyard gardeners are privileged here in the Okanagan. With our warm and sun-filled summers, long growing season, and relatively large lot sizes, the valley is well-situated to generate an abundance of fresh and varietal produce each year. And while agriculture is in fact a major industry within the region, the potential exists for many of us to gain back a small portion of food independence and re-establish a connection to nature in the process.
My wife and I have been amateur backyard gardeners for a number of years. What started during the organic food movement really picked-up steam as we began to appreciate the satisfaction of eating something that we planted and nurtured. And once we bit into our first garden-ripe tomato and chomped a fresh dirt smeared carrot, backyard gardening went from a if we get around to it to a I can’t wait to try that next year.
These days our backyard garden is a family project that is in large part spearheaded by our daughters. Call it a genetic pre-disposition to survival, but give a child a seed and some basic instructions and watch them thrive. To witness their expression as the first signs of life begin to sprout up from the black mass brings a smile to our face as we do our best to explain how it all works. At that moment high school teachings of photosynthesis come rushing back as you reflect for a moment that at some point all life began this way.
Over the years our daughters have graduated to their own small garden bed where they are free to grow whatever they wish. In this garden they are responsible for everything, from watering to weeding, and their reward each year comes at harvest; a moment that is well savoured.
In the years since we moved to the Okanagan we have come to appreciate gardening more and more as we realize how spoiled we are with this climate. Just this week (mid-May) we enjoyed our first garden salad of the year. And the fun isn’t limited to just vegetables. Fall brings an explosion of grapes out back, our hazelnut tree drops future packets of homemade Nutella, and we have even experimented with growing melons (which is tame in comparison to those that grow citrus fruits and figs within the valley).
Don’t let anyone tell you that backyard gardening has to be complicated. It can be as simple as a small container housing a single tomato plant to a small patch of bare earth in the corner of the yard. In our own backyard, given the slope of our land, we went with a series of raised garden beds which cut-down on maintenance over time (but come with a higher start-up cost). But regardless of the individual set-up, the most important aspect of gardening is just to start; things can evolve over time.
And what of the savings to the grocery budget realized over the life of a garden? This is more difficult to quantify (although many articles have made impressive attempts) and would be completely dependent on many factors. However, instead of savings I prefer to justify it more as an investment. Similar to buying organic food, purchasing a gym membership or treating yourself to a quality meal out, many of us are willing to pay for these things given the perceived benefits. And in my mind a garden shouldn’t be thought of any differently. You are growing fresh organic produce, that is really good for you, and that tastes like nothing money can buy. What is that worth?
I often think that the secret to a more fulfilling life can be found in part by observing the actions of our ancestors. Work hard, eat well and share with others. I remember visiting my Grandmother each summer and I will never forget her bountiful garden and the joy it brought her as she made lunch for us with fresh ingredients. I’m not making a case for a life where we return to work on a farm and toil daily in the production of our food. But it has been my experience that there exists many hidden benefits to getting our hands a little dirty when it comes to the food we eat.