Wow. What a wild and crazy year. My overwhelmed brain tries to make sense of what’s happening to our country, reading the news, waiting for the latest bomb to drop. I’ll admit—it’s exhausting.
But thank goodness for gardens—and gardening friends--that save my sanity during crazy political and emotional times!
Right now, more than ever, it’s important to cherish our gardens. From starting seeds in a greenhouse to working in community gardens to dividing perennials to share with friends and neighbors, gardening provides the perfect opportunity to bring people together.
That’s what we need to do now—cheer one another on and help each other survive the rough patches our country’s encountered. I truly believe gardens and the love of nature can bridge political divides. At least, I hope so.
Beautiful, Edible Gardens: A Cure.
You know I’m a believer that everyone can and should grow an edible garden. Preferably, you’ll grow a beautifully designed kitchen garden where you can linger among the tomatoes, enjoying a cocktail or cup of tea. (If you need help creating your perfect edible garden, see me after class…but more on that in a bit!)
Now, more than ever, it’s time to grow food. If you’ve been thinking about planting a garden, grow as much food as you can manage. Here’s why:
1. Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Labor Shortage.
We need to talk about a few realities, even if it makes us uncomfortable. (I’m sorry.)
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Report on Immigration and the Rural Workforce, undocumented workers comprise 67 percent of fruit harvesters and 61 percent of vegetable farm employees. The report also states than an estimated 50 percent of all farm workers picking crops are undocumented workers.
So, what happens with a mass deportation of undocumented workers?
That’s right—we face a labor shortage.
Already, friends in the agriculture and horticulture industries tell stories of too few greenhouse workers, crops rotting in fields, farmers with fallow fields, because they don’t have enough manpower to plant and harvest crops.
Some of our favorite fruits and vegetables, like labor-intense asparagus, wine grapes, oranges, and sweet cherries, for example—may no longer be produced in the U.S. We may soon need to rely on other countries for our food.
Personally, I don’t like that scenario.
However, with a labor shortage comes the inevitable: rising food prices.
2. Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Increased Prices.
Remember Econ 101—that whole “supply/demand” lesson? Well, if farmers produce less food due to the inability to find labor, then the price of food will rise. In fact, the World Agricultural Economic and Environmental Services estimate that stricter immigration policies may result in a 5-6 percent increase in grocery costs.
Not only will prices rise, but the quality of food produced is expected to plummet. Without enough workers overseeing crops and managing harvests, we can expect quality control issues.
And with quality control issues comes a burning question: is it organic, really?
3. Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Organic Oversight.
Many of us willingly pay premium prices for the organic label. However, recent media coverage of crops that touted an organic label but that, in fact, were not leads us all to question the validity of organic oversight.
Have you heard the story about the 36 million pounds of conventionally grown soybeans that left Turkey—and miraculously transformed into organic produce by the time they reached California? Pretty nifty trick, especially since the transformation also increased the value of the shipment by more than $4 million. Soybeans aren’t alone in their magical rise to organic status, according to The Washington Post.
If we rely on more foreign food imports due to our lack of farm labor, who will ensure our food’s authenticity—and safety?
However, if you grow food in your backyard, front yard, patio, or balcony, you know exactly what’s in the food you serve for dinner.
Plus, you’ll no longer pay premium prices for questionable produce. Organic fruits and vegetables, harvested straight from the garden, provide delicious, nutritious food for your family.
4. Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Health Benefits.
Yes, we all need to eat more nutritious food for our health. And we know that weeding, moving compost, mulching, digging, and harvesting in the garden provides a better workout than the gym—as our backs will attest.
But during trying times, the garden also provides an excellent psychological escape.
Really, when you start reading the news, trying to catch up on the latest headlines that seem to change and evolve within minutes, then find you’ve spent hours reading, head throbbing, shoulders tense, stomach clenching…it’s time to head to the garden.
Not only are fresh air and sunlight emotionally healthy, microbes in the soil actually elevate your emotional health. Personally, I find ripping weeds from the garden incredibly therapeutic. I’m taking out my frustrations, imaging tiny faces on the leaves of those plants, while tidying the garden beds.
It’s very productive, depending on my daily irritation level.
Sometimes, there’s nothing like good, manual garden labor to quiet your brain and soothe your troubled soul.
5. Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Flavor.
I’ve always touted the need to grow food at home, because nothing beats sun-warmed tomatoes eaten just minutes after picking. (Well, except for maybe the first strawberry of the season, eaten covertly in the garden so you don’t have to share.) Homegrown food, harvested right outside the kitchen door, makes eating healthy a pleasure.
Let’s now think about what might happen to our current food supply. If we’re importing food from other countries due to our lack of farm workers, how will that produce taste by the time it reaches our kitchens? Many fruits will be picked unripe, exposed to ethylene to ripen as they’re shipped to the U.S.
Who wants to eat flavorless, expensive strawberries with a rock-hard, white core?
Instead, for the price of a few pints of strawberries at the grocery store, you can buy plant starts at the nursery. Or even better—start you own strawberries from seed. It requires a little patience, but strawberries grow easily from seed. (Plus, you can grow several different varieties, like Yellow Wonder, which you’ll never find in the grocery store—they’re highly perishable, but they’re one of the most delicious strawberries I’ve ever eaten.)
6. Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Community
Probably one of the most important aspects of growing your own food involves community. Let’s face it—we can all use a little kindness these days, and gardeners are among the kindest, most generous people I know. Once you begin growing food, you’ll suddenly find common ground with your neighbors, who might also struggle with squash bugs or want to trade pepper plants for tomatoes.
One of my favorite things that seems to bridge age, class, race, religion, and yes—even politics—is growing food. Gardeners wish each other well. We channel hope into those seedlings we plant, nurturing them, pampering them like our children, asking after our friends’ green babies and how they’re faring, too. We celebrate each other’s successes and learn from our mistakes. We offer help, we offer seeds, we sneak zucchini onto each other’s porches and share coveted heirloom tomatoes with friends. We’re quick to divide perennials and pass them along to new gardeners just starting out. We provide seed sources, tell folk stories of herbal remedies, and offer a shoulder when things go wrong.
Why It’s Time to Grow Your Own Food: Help Is Just an E-Mail Away.
I know it can be overwhelming, and I’m here to help.
Ask your questions. Tell me what you want to know. Email me: [email protected]. I’ve branched out and now offer design and consultation services for growing food—no matter where you live.
With a photo of your growing space—whether backyard, front yard, balcony, patio—whatever area(s) you have available, I’ll prepare a design, detailed plant list, companion planting recommendations, and basic instructions, based on a questionnaire that asks you specific food and design preferences. I’m not a landscape designer—but I do know how to create beautiful, productive edible landscapes, kitchen gardens, and containers. With a plan in your hand, you can decide if you want to do the work yourself to save money, or hire a local crew to implement the plan. The choice is yours!
But no matter what, I really hope you’ll grow lots of food this year.
I know life is messy, and it will be tough to bridge the divide in our country. But I believe in the power of gardening to help our country find its way back to a kinder, saner place.
And I really believe that it’s time for all of us to grow our own food—and help others grow food, too.
After all, sharing homegrown meals is a delicious way to mend differences and create new friendships.
Are you in?! Let's get started growing together.