It’s a question I get quite often when I tell someone that I like to garden. It’s a subject that excites me. Unfortunately, the reactions almost never return my enthusiasm. That simple statement evokes blank stares, curious grins, suspicious eyebrows, and chuckles of disbelief; but never the mutual excitement or interest for which I hope. Admittedly, I guess I can see why. I’m a 6’4″ former basketball player turned web developer. The cultural norm doesn’t dictate I garden. And there lies the problem.
Gardening doesn’t fit into the lifestyle of this technological era. It’s reserved for the old Italian grandmothers who think your iPad is a fancy cutting board and iPods are some sort of bean. So you take it for granted, think that this is progress, and put grandma in a home where she won’t fuck up your iPad. So my question to you, in response to why I garden, is why do you enjoy tapping your tablet in a Starbucks on the corner of a crowded city block? Why do you take for granted that your cold metallic world is somehow closer to a utopia than my green garden grounds? This electronic ball most of us live in has caused more problems than it has tried to fix. We’re riddled with disease, famine, war, and poverty of the basic needs. Yet we celebrate how we’ve prolonged lives, in the west, and ignore that the extra 20 years we’ve gained on our life is either spent in sickness, dimentia, or, in the more optimistic outcome, hurriedly spending the money we’ve s(l)aved up in the first three-quarters of our lives hoping we can buy a taste of happiness before becoming fertilizer for some garden.
So ask again. Why do I garden? Maybe this time you’ll be more curious of my answer now that we’ve put the alternative in perspective. I have my personal selfish reasons. I also have my altruistic reasons for why society should adopt gardening as a lifestyle. Since I’m not as empathetic and altruistic as I like to think, I should start with my own.
This is why I Garden
I live by very few foundational values, so the ones I adhere to are enormously important to me. One of the pillars that shape my actions is the need for freedom. This could, and probably will, be a whole other topic to discuss, but for the sake of brevity I’ll assume the reasons for valuing freedom are self-evident. Now ask yourself, how independent are you when your food, medicine, shelter, and water are provided by someone else? How free are you when you’re fed by a corporate hand that can become a fist at any time? Yes, it’s “just how society works,” but I urge you to avoid this dogma, especially when the alternative is not as complicated as you think. If you played the “word association” game with the word “self-sustainable” or “garden” most people would have “difficult” come to mind way before “freedom.” But how difficult is it to plant a couple of basil plants by your window? If you don’t know, try it. Your “difficult” opinion of gardening will quickly change when you see how easy it is to reach over and pick a fresh and fragrant basil leaf for your spaghetti sauce. Forget about driving to the store, and paying money for a tragically inferior version of basil. By planting it, you’re planting a small but tangible increase in your freedom. You gain more time and less dependence. I, for one, love my time and independence because it allows me to be productive with the freedom I’ve earned.
Done right, you can easily meet all of your basic needs in a garden. When your basic needs are directly met by your own hands and not the government or monetary system, there’s a huge burden that’s relieved. Gardening in a broader sense can do this! I’m not just talking about having salads everyday for lunch. I have a broader sense of the word “garden,” but I’m sure others have a narrower view consisting of a few dirt rows of salad, carrots, peppers and tomatoes. Yes, that’s a garden; but it’s like saying your 2 o’clock Tuesday class is education. It encompasses a much broader spectrum.
I define gardening as sculpting nature. Utilizing nature, not as a resource, but as something to be integrated and shaped into your own life, according to a great system already in place. Another way of approaching this broader definition of gardening is to consider it through the eyes of permaculture. If you haven’t already heard of permaculture, Google it! Here’s the founder’s, Bill Mollison, more practical definition:
Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted & thoughtful observation rather than protracted & thoughtless labour; & of looking at plants & animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system.
With that in mind, you can imagine that the product of gardening is not just a nice basil salad. It’s wood, milk, eggs, human and animal companionship, pretty flowers, medicine, fuel, shelter, food, water, the rest of your needs and some more. Gardening can more easily than you think meet all your basic needs. It lays the foundation, not just for food, but for a healthy, thoughtful, productive, free life.
I shouldn’t overlook the pure enjoyment I get out of it. I’m an introvert. The solitude and silence I get out of interacting one on one with nature recharges my batteries in the same way a night out with friends does for an extrovert. Some people go hiking, or biking to immerse themselves in it. I garden and take walks. Another reason I’m so motivated to garden is seeing the fruits (and veggies) of my labor. Seeing the tangible product of my creation gives me a rush of endorphins that keeps me happy and motivated. It’s the same reason I enjoy web design and development. I take a vague idea or design and turn it into a very tangible final product. Seeing a tiny seed sprout from the earth and become a huge, fruit bearing plant, that adds beauty to the landscape and food to my plate is a very motivating and tangible product of my creation. Creating beautiful things gives me a taste of godliness, and this brings me happiness.
This is Why Everyone Should Garden
As I mentioned previously, there’s also the collective benefit of gardening to consider. I think a good way to approach this is as a thought experiment. Consider this: what if every family in the world had a productive self-sustaining garden a couple acres in area? Keep in mind that’s nota naive far-fetched goal, especially if you took my advice and Googled permaculture. Let’s see what problems it could solve:
Famine is the obvious one. We spend billions of dollars of tax money and donations to help famished countries. Unfortunately, very few of those dollars go to fixing the problem. Dumping money and preserved foods on poor countries is not going to help for long. Dumping seeds and knowledge of gardening will give a permanent and virtually moneyless solution.
As a result of fresh foods for all, the amount of diseases that could and would be prevented from this kind of diet is almost innumerable. With some solid knowledge of specific plants, most diseases that do get passed the healthy diet could be treated with medicinal herbs and plant preparations. If you think this is hippie non-sense, please keep in mind that every single drug your doctor prescribes you has been derived from a plant.
What about those crazier epidemic diseases (and disease scares) we’ve had over the years? SARS, Bird Flu, Polio, plagues, you name it – we were scared shitless from it. I postulate those could’ve been avoided if there were no cities to incubate them. If our metropolitan mentality was replaced with a natural one where people spread out a bit and lived on larger, less dense plots of land like the 2 acres proposed in the thought experiment, none of these diseases would spread fast enough or mutate fast enough to become a problem. The common flu wouldn’t even be in our vernacular anymore.
3. Energy Crisis
When all your basic needs are met in your yard, the need for electricity and oil is reserved for the luxurious. How much fuel do you think could be saved when society no longer needs to transport food supplies, when heating can be done through the wood you grow, when traditional resource intensive monoculture doesn’t have the necessity to exist, when the minds of people free from work and money have the time to think up brilliant alternatives to the oil industry?
4. Environmental Crisis
The environmental crisis would become an environmental resurgence. Even in infertile places plagued with drought, one can re-green the area, as evidenced in this video by the brilliant permaculturalist Geoff Lawton.
With all the basic needs filled by gardening, poverty would be equivalent to a monastic lifestyle. A lack of luxuries or money doesn’t make one poor. Many gardeners are richer than they would ever be with a billion dollars in their pockets.
With a sound knowledge of gardening, waste becomes a misnomer. There is no waste, just food for something else. Paper, food scraps, feces, urine, all organic materials, and many times inorganic materials can easily be fed back to the land through composting and fertilizing. This is a far more efficient cycle than traditional recycling. It’s an astounding event when you consider that you can turn your trash into a delicious meal, and do it over and over.
I could go on about the problems this thought experiment could solve. But what’s even more important to realize after considering it, is that it’s not idealistic. What do you need to garden? You need water, seeds, some know-how, and land. With a bit of teaching, knowledge of growing and water harvesting can be done by anyone. Seeds are not expensive, and can be provided to everyone in the world for a fraction of the cost of current foreign aid. You may think available land is the problem, but you’d be surprised. There are 7 billion people on the planet. To be conservative, let’s say every family is 5 people (two parents, two children, one grandparent). That’s 1.4 billion families. Canada has 2.5 billion acres. That’s almost 2 acres for every family in Canada alone. The overwhelming problem is not the availability of land, but nationalism and government.
So that’s my answer to why I garden. It’s somewhat long. Ironically, the name of this site, “Why? Simply Because” is just as appropriate as an answer, because it’s a simple solution to a lot of problems. It’s only because we take these problems and the current situation for granted that I had to spell things out in this increasingly long article. The answer to the question should be self-evident and lack the need for explanation. It’s not a complicated question. There is no reason not to garden and every reason to get your hands dirty.