Some things in life get better when others join you. Exercise is a great example; when you exercise with others you are more likely to enjoy the experience and form a long-term healthy habit. As more and more people become active, healthcare costs are reduced for everyone.
Growing your own food also gets better the more people do it. If more people grow food, everyone wins. People don’t even need to grow all of their own food, just some of it. There are the key benefits to each person who grows their own food, namely that it is more nutritious and also safer. By knowing what goes into your food and harvesting it yourself, you eliminate almost all possibility of food contamination.
The benefits of fresh, healthy, and delicious food go beyond the selfish though. There are also the big-ticket items that growing year-round gardens provide for all of us — including habitats and food sources for pollinators along with a lower carbon impact from the reduction of imported produce and carbon sequestration.
There are also many less obvious, large-scale benefits to food grown at home. It has been proven to be calming to be around plants, providing stress relief to those that garden. Carbon drawdown can be maximized with perennial plants and smart growing.
People who garden also change their diet in several key ways. Simply having a garden tends to double the amount of vegetables consumed, especially raw ones, which is linked to lower risk of dying from all causes. Remember how exercise reduces healthcare costs for everyone? Same thing with growing your own food.
Food waste is a large and daunting problem in the U.S. Less food is wasted when it’s grown at home as gardeners tend to understand and appreciate malformed or pest-damaged produce. Gardeners also only harvest what they need and tend to do more to prevent food waste, by giving excess to friends or neighbors. The 50% or 60 million tons of produce that is wasted each year in the U.S. could be consumed rather than discarded. Finally, just-in-time harvesting of herbs and greens promotes better plant growth while extending how long a single plant can be harvested.
With more people growing food, the benefits to society increase exponentially. Scaling the number of home food growers naturally results in increased soil health. This occurs because the greater crop diversity (many small growers growing many different varieties) generates more yield while requiring less fertilizer. The benefits compound as increased yields lead to more affordable crops through continued crop diversity or decreased need for farmland that can then be planted for other uses.
The more people learn the facts about food seasonality and the challenges of food growing, the more respect they have for the available food choices. Demand generally dictates supply in the food world. If consumers are demanding seasonal, sustainably-raised vegetables, then the supply will rise to meet that demand. Once more people realize that zucchini and broccoli are not year-round vegetables and that the tomato on your burger in November has very little nutritional value and was likely shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to get to your plate, it becomes much less appetizing.
Gardening can’t solve all our food problems and it can be very hard to grow your own food (more to come on this shortly), especially depending on where you live. The great thing about growing your own food is that every bit helps, each plant grown instead of purchased is a step toward a better relationship with food and each other. If you’re interested in learning about ways that we are helping people grow in their own yards, follow along and join the team!