Why I garden

Ali at Henbogle asked an interesting question today on her blog. Why do you garden? My answer is too long to put into the comments section of her blog, so I’m writing today’s post on that question.

I garden in part because I have to. I don’t mean out of financial necessity, because Lord knows I spend far more on my garden than the food is worth from a strictly financial point of view. I garden because it is in my genes. Deep down in my DNA. Ten thousand years of my ancestors tilled the soil instead of manufacturing shoes, working in silver, or weaving tapestries. If you look at my family tree, it’s farmer, farmer, farmer as far back as I can go right down to my father in present times.

My ancestors arrived in the New World as early as 1644 in Jamestown. They settled in the states of Virginia and North Carolina mostly, moving west to Kentucky and Tennessee, then north to Indiana in the 1800s. They were pioneers, often the first white settlers on their property. They cleared, plowed and planted.

Actually, my father didn’t farm as an adult, but he did until he was 16. He was raised on a farm, and growing things was in his blood too. We often went back to the farm where he was raised to visit his cousin, who was running it.

My father showed me how to plant a vegetable garden when I was 12. I don’t remember paying any attention, which must have been a disappointment to him, but the lesson stuck. His mother, my Grandma Wilson, raised a vegetable garden in her backyard and canned. It was just what people did.

I planted my first garden during my marriage to my first husband, back in 1962, at the community gardens at Purdue University, where I was an ag major, of all things. That garden was a short-lived, one season effort.

I didn’t have a garden again until 1976, when I lived to a 7-acre farm in Higganum CT with my present husband. We only lived there a year, but we grew a garden the entire time we were in graduate school, 1976-1981. My inspiration was Jim Crockett’s Victory Garden on PBS out of Boston.

We got our doctorates in 1981, moved to southern California and began a stressful life as college professors. I gardened then to destress. I had a garden at our first house out here, then a plot at the local community garden after we moved to our present house in 1988 with its pathetically small yard.  For some reason, I quit gardening in 1997 and that community garden went defunct not too many years later.

My mother died in the summer of 2005, and my son Bob died three months later. I went into a blue funk and didn’t climb back out for a couple of years. I neglected the yard entirely during that period.

Then I read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” I vowed to do my bit to fight global warming and to eat locally grown food as much as possible, preferably home-raised. That was the year I began planting my mini-orchard in earnest. It is now five years later and the fruit trees are coming into good production. This should be a banner year for fruit production in our yard.

So long story short, I garden in part to destress.

Other reasons are that I like to try new-to-me varieties of vegetables. I love reading seed catalogs, and want to try everything once. Not possible. I love to cook, and enjoy having fresh, organic produce available right out the back door.

But why do we dig in the cold, miserable mud at the first sign of spring? Why do we swelter over a hot stove during the humid days of August to put up tomatoes and preserves? Why do we mourn the passing of each growing season and rejoice when we can plant again? Maybe it’s because we love to see those first tiny green shoots poke up out of the rich, brown dirt. It symbolizes hope and renewal. It promises an abundance of food. I think one reason that I garden and can is for food security, or at least the illusion of food security. We can provide for ourselves. We have a stockpile of food for the long, cold days of winter ahead.

Another reason to garden in today’s modern world is food safety. We see mass prepared foods cause epidemics of food poisoning. One badly butchered cow can ruin a million pounds of hamburger. That’s one reason why I buy ground beef only from stores with an in-house butcher, where the hamburger was ground on site.  OK, I’m not raising cows at home, but it’s the same principle. Today’s mass production can cause problems in the food chain. Even organic spinach can kill people if it is contaminated with H1N1. I think that’s the right designation for the bacteria from cows that can blow into a field of lettuce or spinach.

Another safety issue is organic versus non-organic food. I don’t want herbicides and pesticides on my food. If I grow my own, I know what has or has not been put onto it. Also, supporting or practicing organic farming also supports good stewardship of the land. No-pesticide/herbicide gardening or farming is safer for wildlife, including humans and especially small children.

So there you have it. Genetics, a connection with my ancestors and the land, a destressing activity, greater variety of food, fresher produce, food security and food safety. Bottom line–it makes me happy.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I am retired from writing a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent, but I am still teaching at the Orange County Conservation Corps. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks.
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6 Responses to Why I garden

  1. curbstonevalley says:

    Same here, it’s in the genes, and it’s a welcome break from the hectic hubbub of everyday life (not to mention it’s cheaper than therapy 😉 ) It makes me happy too, although I think almost more importantly, to me, the food just tastes better when it’s homegrown, and truly fresh!

    • Right you are, Clare. I had forgotten about how much better homegrown food tastes and looks. I don’t bother with summer squash from the store. They always looked scratched up, a poor substitute for home grown beauties. And there is nothing like fresh snap peas and tomatoes from the garden. Wow. I can hardly wait for tomato harvest time.

  2. Well I agree with most of what you said. I really think that it is only natural for us to want to be free, and you can’t be truly free if you have to rely on someone else for your food. We’re slaves to the food industry and we know it. Some of us just refuse to accept that.

    • Rebecca, living in a huge megalopolis, I am truly dependent on a steady stream of trucks to bring in more food, and electricity to pump and purify the water that we drink. We can grow maybe half of our produce, all of our eggs, but none of our meat, grains, sugar, or many other staples. But I hardly think of myself as a slave to the food industry. It’s the other way around. They cater to our needs and desires. If people didn’t demand organic produce and locally grown foods, they wouldn’t be in the stores. But we have made our wishes known and industry responded.

  3. Ali says:

    I love those seed catalogs, too. I might flip through a clothing catalog, but I pore over every page of the seed catalog, and drool all over the photos. I never saw a seed packet I didn’t want!

    Thanks for the post, it is all fodder for my thinking about the PechaKucha!

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