If you are going stir crazy being cooped up at home, I have the solution. Gardening. If there has ever been a time that has strengthened my belief in the health benefits of gardening, now is that time. Although I have been on a crusade for a number of years about the importance of gardening and eating local, whole foods, partly because of Vic’s health issues, the current corona virus pandemic has only strengthened my resolve to encourage everyone to plant a garden this year.
The most obvious benefit of planting a home garden is that you get fresh, local food. Not only will it taste better, but it is more nutritious than food bought at the grocery store because it is still nutrient dense. Many foods begin to loose their nutrients within 24 hours of being picked, but food picked fresh from your garden will still be packed with nutrients. Since it hasn’t been handled as much or shipped, it is probably safer too because it hasn’t been exposed to possible contaminants- an important point to consider in the current situation. There is also some evidence that eating some foods sourced locally, like honey, can actually aid in building your immune system. Foods like broccoli, leafy greens, and garlic have also been known to have immune system boosting properties and all of those can easily be grown here. If you choose instead to purchase from a farm stand, CSA, or farmers market, you have the benefit of knowing that your local producers can tell you how that food was grown and harvested. Eating fresh, whole foods has been proven to be one of the best ways to build your immune system and protect yourself against disease.
When was the last time you got out and really dug in the dirt? It’s good for you and even has a name- “the farm effect.” Research has proven that routine exposure to the harmless bacteria found in soil supports a healthy immune system. It works by training your immune system to ignore benign molecules and instead focus on harmful ones. If you think about it, it makes sense. Mankind has been exposed to bacteria, microbes and parasites since time began. Regularly playing in the dirt builds that immunity in a natural way. Think about a baby learning to crawl on the floor. They are exposed to all kinds of dirt. Did you drink from the garden hose as a kid on a hot summer day? Most of us did- and survived partly because we played in the dirt, outdoors, much of the time and therefore built those immunities naturally.
Gardening has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve mood by increasing serotonin levels from exposure to sunshine. Regular exposure to soil microbes called Mycobacterium vaccae also has been proven to act as a natural antidepressant. Some doctors now write “park prescriptions” for people recommending that they spend time outdoors as a treatment for various medical conditions.
However, the benefit of gardening I like best is that it’s a great way to spend time with your family. Gardening is the perfect backyard multi-generational activity. It’s an opportunity for grandparents to pass knowledge on to grandchildren. It’s an opportunity for parents to slow down from their (understandably) normally fast paced life and connect once again with their kids. It’s a opportunity to bring back a family meal created from food you grew yourself. It’s a wonderful way to add exercise and time outdoors to your routine, especially during this period when we’ve been asked to stay at home. Finally, it’s a way to become self sufficient and self reliant. Putting food by, as my mother used to say, is a good thing.
If you haven’t gardened in the past, or are new to gardening, I’ll be giving you some ways to get started over the coming weeks in my next several columns. It doesn’t have to be difficult, complex, or expensive, but now is the time to think about getting ready. In my next column I’ll be talking about how the Victory Gardens started during World War I and why they were so important. In the meantime, gardening has not been cancelled and it’s a great way for your family to spend some time outdoors while reaping the healthy benefits of what they sow!