If you’ve ever spent time working in a garden, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. If not, you just don’t know what you’re missing.
On this week’s “Wellness Wednesday,” I want to turn our attention from our discussion about saving money on healthcare (which had some surprises for me, so I think you will enjoy it as well) to focus on a topic that is very close to my heart—growing your own food.
Why Gardening Is A Superpower
Gardening is more than a hobby and more than an earth-friendly way to save money on groceries; it’s a way of connecting with the planet — a way of connecting with our own roots (pun intended). We were created from the soil, and we have a physiological and spiritual connection to the soil. The first humans cultivated plants from the soil. Your grandparents probably raised all their own food, especially if they owned a farm. Our parents raised gardens. During World War II, raising a “Victory Garden” in your yard was a simple way of showing your support for the war effort.
In fact, my generation is probably the first in human history to buy all their food from third-party vendors, like grocery stores. That separation from our food source is a major disconnect, not just on a biological level, but on a soul-and-spirit level. We need to get back to working in the soil. Even if the thought of living on a farm horrifies you, there is a part of you deep inside that longs to reconnect with the earth.
Back To The Fundamentals
The reason I named my practice “Fundamental Health Solutions” is that I believe we achieve our greatest wellness when we return to operating our bodies the way our ancestors did:
- Ancient civilizations didn’t work out with free weights…they built cities with their hands.
- They didn’t do aerobics…they raised food and animals in the fields.
- Nobody wore padded pastel cross-training shoes…they ran with their bare feet touching the earth.
- People didn’t live in air-conditioned boxes until the 1960s…they spent their waking hours in the sun and fresh air.
I’ll grant you, this is a little bit of an oversimplification, but my point is this: most of our comforts and conveniences are doing us the disservice of removing us from the living elements – sun, air, soil, and water – and it’s killing us slowly.
Let’s take it a step further.
Spirit, Soul, and Body
On a spiritual level, it’s not too far out to say gardening is a form of worship. When you plant a seed, you join the Creator in His favorite activity: the act of creation. Stop and think about it for a minute. Everything in the universe starts as a seed and incubates until it is fully mature. The peach tree starts as a peach pit, the mammal starts as a sperm, a fortune starts as an investment. Even an act of kindness serves as the seed of a harvest of kindness. If you enjoy reading the Bible, look for examples of seeds that come to harvest. It will amaze you when you see how many there are. Seeds are God’s M.O. When you engage in the process of planting and harvesting (“sowing and reaping” for you readers of the King’s James Version), you are behaving like God, the way He intended.
I Am Missing Out On These Benefits
I’ll be totally transparent here: I don’t have a garden of my own. If there is one thing missing from my life right now, it’s a garden. It’s my own dumb fault for keeping such a busy schedule. As a result, I am missing out on some amazing benefits:
OK, this is a mixed bag, because I do get plenty of exercise, between biking to work and my normal fitness program (plus the classes where I train with dozens of patients a week), but this is different. Weeding, mulching, hoeing, raking, and digging are all excellent activities for working different muscle groups at the same time (raking and digging qualify as “high-intensity” workouts). If I had to choose between a gym membership and working in the yard, I would take the yard every time.
Much of the farmland in America has been over-farmed, meaning that farmers have been using the same soil year after year, depleting the nutrient content, without ever giving their fields time to rest. If you were to time-warp a basket of vegetables from 1940 to the present and compare it to a basket of modern vegetables, you would taste the difference immediately. Actually, you would probably see the difference in the color before you even took them out of the baskets. That’s because the minerals in the soil have been depleted over time. This is an important part of the reason that most Americans are magnesium-deficient: our soil doesn’t have the same magnesium content it used to have.
To make matters worse, some farms harvest their fruit before it is ready and apply chemicals to adjust the color. You cheat yourself when you don’t give the fruit time to mature. Thankfully, more and more farmers are returning to old-school practices, like letting parts of their fields rest for a year, or planting alfalfa for one season, to replenish the nitrogen in the soil.
When you plant your own garden, you control the conditions of the soil, what fertilizers and herbicides you use, and how long to let the plants stand before you harvest.
This is a big one that most people don’t think about.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that, as we have separated ourselves from the land, our lives have become more stressful. Have you ever been around people who have farmed their whole lives? They keep a slower pace, measuring their productivity in weeks and months, not hours and minutes. Plus, they understand that if you want to have a meal in October, you have to plant it in April. Fast food means nothing to them.
From a time-to-budget standpoint, gardening is grossly inefficient. It takes weeks to turn a seed into a single edible tomato or zucchini (and the first harvest is not very tasty). In a way, gardening forces you to slow down.
There are plenty of studies that measure the stress-relieving properties of gardening, even compared to reading. While reading is relaxing for many people, it still stimulates the parts of the brain it engages. Working with your hands in the soil has a deeper calming effect that decreases the stress neurotransmitter, cortisol in the bloodstream.
According to a great article by Dr. Joseph Mercola,
“Mycobacterium vaccae is a type of bacteria commonly found in soil. Remarkably, this microbe has been found to ‘mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provides.’ It helps to stimulate serotonin production, helping to make you feel happier and more relaxed. No wonder so many people describe their garden as their ‘happy place.’”
So get your bare hands (and even your bare feet!) in the soil and feel your balance return to normal.
He also references the benefits to brain health, which is different from mental/emotional health:
“Spending time in a garden may also help to reduce your risk of developing dementia in the first place. As reported by CNN: “Two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account. These findings are hardly definitive, but they suggest that the combination of physical and mental activity involved in gardening may have a positive influence on the mind.”
Are you cutting yourself off from these amazing benefits?
There is more I could say here about the benefits of gardening, but instead, I want to invite you to a much deeper discussion with my friend, Jan Etzel. She is our very special guest for the next Fundamental Foods and Friends dinner on November 2 at my office in Naples. I believe you will walk away from that event with a whole new appreciation for gardening, as well as some practical strategies for reconnecting yourself with the soil. Jan has a unique and memorable way of teaching that I know you are going to enjoy.
Mark your calendar now and then go to my Facebook page and RSVP for the event. Even after I remodeled my office, we still have very limited space, so don’t put it off. Bring a dish to share or $10 in cash. And bring a notebook and pen, because I believe you are going to hear things you have never heard before.
Oh…in case you were wondering about the title, “Plant Slant” is one of the “Power 9” lifestyles identified by Dan Buettner and the Blue Zones Project as a key predictor of advanced longevity. In other words, in the cultures where people typically live past 100 years of age, they eat a lot of plant-based foods (in comparison to other types of food). They also spend proportionally more time outside in the soil, sun, and fresh air than people in other cultures. I believe Jan will show you how to put the “plant” in “Plant Slant” in a whole new way.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas