Science

How Gardens Help Fight Climate Change

Everyday climate change is in the news, for good reason. We all need to be doing our part in order to make a difference to keep our planet in the best shape possible. With such a large problem, how do you help do your part? 

(if you'd like to see us talk about this topic - check out our video for this post here)

This question can be overwhelming and it seems like the only options are incredibly expensive (solar panels, electric cars) or time-consuming (protesting for governmental action). Assuming you’ve got the basics down around recycling, compost collection and energy / water optimization at home, what else can you do? 


Plant a garden.


It sounds like a small thing, but gardens can make a big impact, especially with more and more of us gardening.


Gardens help you:

  • Eat 2x more seasonal veggies
  • Create pollinator ecosystems
  • Reduce urban temperatures 
  • Trap carbon from the air

You get better food and your community gets a better place to live - not a bad deal!


That is a pretty tall order for one garden, let’s look at how you achieve all of this change.


Gardens give you more than just produce - you get the best-tasting, most nutrient-rich food possible. Because it tastes better and the pride of having grown it, you will eat twice as many vegetables. A recent study from Santa Clara University, UC San Diego and UC Cooperatives looked at gardens in San Jose, CA and found that people were eating way more veggies and getting a great source of activity and fulfillment along the way. Also, off-season gardeners were still eating double the average amount of veggies each day.

vegetables consumed by gardeners vs non0-gardeners

Gardens also help you eat seasonally and understand when plants grow the best, giving you an edge at the market when buying produce. You’re more likely to choose the better-tasting, local produce to supplement what you’re growing at home. Eating plants in season would also nearly eliminate the energy used to heat & light greenhouses and hydroponic farms - which are the biggest climate impacts from growing food and account for 10% of all electricity usage in the US, damn!


Eating more veggies helps you limit the amount of meat without even trying, which is one of the easiest ways to make an impact on the planet and your health. Vegetables also have fewer calories and a broader array of micro-nutrients to make you feel and look better as an added bonus. Every meal that comes from your garden, even partially, is one that didn’t have to be trucked, shipped or flown in. Roughly ⅛ of all of our greenhouse gas emissions come from moving food and goods around, eliminating even a small portion makes a difference. And the food from your garden doesn’t come wrapped in single-use plastics! 


If you live anywhere near a farm, having a garden increases pollinator activity and produces greater yield for your farmer friends. If you don’t live near a farm, simply having a path of food for pollinators can help them migrate and find their way from one place to another, which is crucial in keeping ecosystems healthy. Your garden can be a rest stop for your hard-working pollinator friends.


One big problem with agriculture and climate change is soil health. Commercial farmers add a lot of substances to the soil to help them produce more food. Having a garden helps reduce the burden on that output and increase your self-reliance. Providing additional habitats for pollinators can help combat natural pests while producing much higher yields from the same soil. If farms can grow less to produce the same amount, they can adopt more regenerative practices, compost from food and animal waste as fertilizer and mulch, no-till practices to massively increase soil health and carbon capture. There are still problems such as pesticide use, but the more farmers that adopt these practices the better off we’ll all be.


The best part about all of the garden benefits we’ve discussed is that they’re fairly independent of garden size. But since you probably don’t have a garden (and team) to rival Martha Stewart, you won’t be able to grow all of your own food. Having a balcony-sized garden is all you need (especially one that you can take with you when you move from place-to-place and waters itself). If everyone grows a little bit, we unlock massive benefits to all of us. 

If we increase our urban area greenery one balcony or roof deck at a time, it helps everyone. The UK Climate Impacts Program calculated that a 10% increase in greenery in urban areas would offset temperatures by over 7 degrees Celsius (pdf).


Having a garden gives you options to maximize your impact - on your diet and wallet at the same time. If you’re growing all-year there are some plants like herbs that give you incredible returns in both areas. Fresh herbs taste amazing and you pick only what you need without wasting anything. For seasonal plants with limited space, focus on those that don’t transport well. Instead of growing onions for example, grow chives and buy your onions from a trusted source since they can be transported by rail and ship, giving them a lower impact than chives or leafy greens. This all gets pretty complex, but one simple rule is that if it goes bad quickly, it’s better to buy local or grow it yourself. 

energy used by method of freight


Sources / Further Reading:

Gardening Matters: Urban Gardens - Royal Horticultural Society (pdf)

Food Mile Breakdown - Harvard

Urban Gardens Improve Food Security - University of California

Improving Crop Yields & Biocontrol - Sustainable Agricultural Research & Education (SARE.org)

Plant Geeking Out: Ryan McAllister - mrplantgeek.com

Eating the Earth - Food Miles - Resilience.org

Give Soil A Chance - CivilEats.com

Drawdown.org

Sources & Sinks of Greenhouse Gases - EPA.gov

(Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Freight Trucks - John Davies - International Emissions Inventory Conference - May 2007)