Benefits of Organic Gardening
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What are the benefits of organic gardening? Consider your garden. Imagine yourself stepping into your garden on a warm summer morning. The birds are singing; insects are buzzing. The sun is warm on your back. The flowers are blooming and fragrant. The moist earth has that wonderful musky, dewy smell.
You feel at peace with the world.
If you have a garden, you understand what it means to experience that sense of calm and serenity. If you do not yet garden, you too can feel the well-being and restfulness of gardening. These are just a few of the many benefits of organic gardening.
A non-organic garden can be a lovely place in itself, with many advantages. But the benefits of organic gardening are far greater, affecting you directly and extending to the greater world in which you interact. The many small acts of benevolence that comprise the benefits of organic gardening, add up quickly and in the end create a better, green, and more environmentally sound world.
|- Eating Healthy Food|
|- Saving Money|
|- Being Outdoors|
|- Getting Exercise|
|- Reducing Chemical Exposure|
|- Building Knowledge|
|- Rejuvenating the Spirit|
The ability to grow and eat the healthiest food possible is one the chief benefits of organic gardening. No supermarket vegetable can compare in the taste, nutrition, or cleanliness of a garden grown vegetable. As soon as any fruit or vegetable is plucked from its parent plant, its quality slowly begins to degrade. Eating from your garden soon after harvesting ensures the highest quality vegetables.
Taste: Vegetables grown in your garden will taste better than any purchased in the grocery store for the simple reason that you eat your garden produce soon after you pick them. Organic vegetables will taste better still since they have no chemicals applied to them to enhance their growth. To develop true flavor, a fruit or vegetable needs two things: the proper elements and time. The elements of flavor are built slowly from the genetic material of the plants, from the soil, and water. Typical farming practices pay little attention to building the soil and maintaining all the nutrients and trace elements needed for enhanced flavor. For example, if onions are grown in a soil deficient in sulfur the distinctive oniony flavor will not develop and the resulting onions will have a weak watery taste.
It also takes time for flavor to develop. This is why many early-ripening varieties lack the powerful taste of later maturing varieties. This is particularly evident in comparing first-early tomatoes to the late season beefsteak varieties. By the same token, in conventional farming time is money so fast-growing crops are preferred for the supermarket trade. The result is bland tasting produce in the stores.
Nutrition: For the same reasons that organically grown vegetables have more taste, they have better nutrition. Part of the answer lies in the organic approach to building soil. Typical farming practice uses fertilizers primarily composed of the macronutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (aka: N-P-K) and rarely add any of the necessary secondary, tertiary or trace soil elements. Once the minerals endemic in his soil is consumed (which takes only a few months or years) the food grown is correspondingly low or devoid of these nutrients. Also, conventional farming chemicals kill most soil dwelling bacteria, many of which enhance the plant's ability to synthesize or absorb nutrients.
In addition, some of the chemicals used on vegetable plants actually reduce the amount of nutrients available in plants after application. The nutrients most often affected are vitamin C, beta carotene, and the B vitamins, vitally necessary for the body to withstand the onslaught of chemical toxins. Vitamin C has been well documented by two-time Nobel laureate Linus Pauling to prevent and treat cancers. Beta carotene has been shown to be a stimulant of the immune system, and is sometimes able to prevent lung cancer.1
Pesticide Residue: One of the main individual benefits of organic gardening is that there are no pesticide residues on your food. Each year, American farmers apply more than billion pounds of pesticides to food crops.2 The majority of it is washed off by rain and irrigation into the soil and often finds its way into groundwater (and your drinking water). However, a significant portion of it remains on food crops and ultimately comes to your table. In 2007 the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, which routinely monitors pesticide usage and has some of the toughest pesticide regulations in America, found detectable pesticide residues on more than 37 percent of fresh produce sampled.3
Surely better-tasting, more-nutritious, fresh vegetables has to be the best of all the many benefits of organic gardening!
At the Grocery Store: One of the most obvious benefits of organic gardening is the amount of money you can save. The economy of growing your own food is undeniable, and the additional advantages described on this pages make it doubly so. For the price of a seed packet, a little fertilizer, and water you can save an impressive amount in comparison to buying all your vegetables at the store. For every vegetable you grow, that's one you don't have to buy.
In most of the United States it's entirely feasible to grow all of your vegetables for six months of the year. Based on average household income and average purchases of produce, that's an approximate savings of $796 for a single growing season. If you are like most gardeners and grow enough vegetables to can or freeze the savings are even greater. Also, most gardeners enjoy giving away surplus produce to friends and neighbors. There is also value in those gifts as well.
Let's calculate your savings in another way. Suppose that you are growing eggplant, a relatively expensive vegetable to buy. You purchase a packet of eggplant seeds for $3.20, which produces twenty plants. Additionally, the total cost of water and fertilizer (prorated) works out to be $3.04 per plant. Your total expenditure is $64.00. [$3.20+($3.04 x 20 plants) = $64.00] During the growing season you are able to produce an average of four eggplants per plant. The fruits weigh an average of 2 pounds each. That works out to 160 pounds of eggplant total. [20 plants x 4 fruit per plant x 2 pounds per fruit = 160 pounds] At the same time you are harvesting your eggplant, it is selling at $2.90 per pound, so if you were purchasing 160 pounds of eggplant instead of growing it you would pay $464.00! Even with your expenses of $64.00, you have saved a total of $400!! That is a LOT of money (and a lot of eggplant)!
In the Garden: Gardening in general is inexpensive, especially when you consider the rewards. However, creating a successful garden isn't free. There are certain hard costs that cannot be avoided. You can be frugal, or you can spend a bundle. It's up to you, but its helpful to know what you can expect to spend and where it makes sense to economize. One ot the benefits of organic gardening is that it will provide you the opportunity and means to ecomonize.
The most expensive items in your garden are: architectural elements, tools, fertilizers, plants and seeds. Architectural elements include fences, trellis, raised bed borders, and path materials. The cost and need for these items depends entirely on your garden design and your circumstances. You might not actually "need" any of them but they might be demanded by your situation. If deer are a problem in your area, it might not be possible to garden without a deer fence. However, most architectural elements can be built very cheaply with salvaged materials and a little ingenuity.
A very few tools are actually needed for the garden. A few good-quality, well built tools will last you a lifetime if you maintain them. You'll probably need, at a minimum a: shovel, garden rake, hand trowel, pruning shears, knife, and scissors. Tools can be purchased new (at garden stores), used (at garage sales), shared (in a garden tool cooperative), or borrowed (from friends or neighbors).
Fertilizers are one of the few gardening items that cannot be compromised very much. Your soil needs what it needs, and if you don't provide it your garden will suffer. Still, you can be frugal with some simple consideration. Buy materials in bulk for a better price. Look for long-lasting materials like powdered rock and mineral-based fertilizers. These tend to be less expensive and will last for years if properly applied and the surplus properly stored.
Plants and seeds are an expensive outlay that comes only once or twice a year, but one that has a very healthy return-on-investment. If you plan ahead you should be able to budget for this expenditure. In deciding what to purchase, take a good hard look at you situation. Talk to fellow gardeners. Perhaps you can buy seed with others and take advantage of bulk pricing.
In general, starting from seed is the most economical but may not be your best choice. For example, if you live in a cool northern climate, the most economical choice for growing tomatoes is to start them indoors. But if you cannot support small seedlings with adequate light and warmth, it is more economical to purchase seedlings and set them out at the right time. The purchased seedlings will likely be larger, stronger, and more vigorous growers than thin and leggy seedlings started on your windowsill in the dim days of early spring.
Fresh Air: The average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors. One of the most underrated benefits of organic gardening is that it gets you outdoors. Simply getting outdoors on a regular basis will do more for your mental and physical health than you guess. Indoor air quality is far worse than you think it is. Heating, ventilating, and cooling systems are often poorly designed and minimally maintained. Outdoor air, even city air, is generally cleaner and healthier to breathe than recirculated lightly-filtered indoor air. The atmosphere in the garden has the added advantage of being cleaned and oxygenated by living plants.
Sunshine: More than 90 percent of most people's vitamin D comes from casual exposure to sunlight. Hopefully, we all know the connection between sunshine exposure and Vitamin D absorption, which is critical to the formation and maintenance of normal bones. Even if people consume enough calcium, they cannot build and maintain bone mass if they are deficient in vitamin D. Due to the recent practice of keeping children out of the sun and overuse of sunscreen, there has been a recent resurgence of rickets, a syndrome with pronounced softening and deformity of the bones. A sunscreen with an S.P.F. of 8 blocks 95 percent of the skin's ability to make vitamin D.
According to Dr. Michael F. Holick, a professor of medicine, dermatology, physiology and biophysics at the Boston University School of Medicine, relatively brief but unfettered exposure to sunshine or its equivalent several times a week can help to ward off a host of debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases, including osteoporosis, hypertension, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and cancers of the colon, prostate and breast. He proposes exposing unprotected skin to sunlight for a matter of minutes, with the recommended time determined by a person's skin type, the time of year, the time of day and the latitude.4 Another of the hidden benefits of organic gardening is exposure to sunshine and the opportunity to aborb adquate amounts of Vitamin D.
Strengthened Immunity: Who would've thought that dirt under your fingernails has a beneficial health effect? Exposure to garden soil, with its many benign and nasty micro-organisms, is just the ticket for a healthy immune system. This is one of the healthy benefits of organic gardening that goes almost unnoticed.
As the late comedian, George Carlin put it, "Your immune system only works when you use it!" Like all body systems, our immune response gets stronger as it is tested. If you don't exercise your muscles will atrophy. If you don't test your immune system by gardening and getting dirty, your immune system will atrophy. So go out, have fun gardening, get dirty --- and get healthy.
Getting decent exercise is one of the best benefits of organic gardening. Organic gardeners are more generally more concerned with the environment than traditional gardeners and are more likely to use hand tools than power tools. As a result, they tend to burn more calories working in the garden. Each garden task burns around 200 to 400 calories per hour (more for heavier gardening tasks). It may not seem like much of a difference, but it adds up over time. Over a six month growing season, a gardener can easily burn up over 35,000 calories (enough to lose 10 pounds).
Gardening is an active pursuit that can work several of your major muscle groups and provide you with a light cardiovascular exercise. Stooping and bending activities, like planting and thinning, helps to stretch and exercise your lower body and arms. Hoeing and raking work the back, shoulders and upper torso. Digging and turning compost can give your core muscle groups a vigorous workout. Done properly, and with adequate stretching, gardening activities can give your whole body a gentle to thorough workout. It's a great alternate to lifting weight in the gym, and often with the same results.
On the other hand, gardening is not generally an aerobic exercise, but can impart some moderate cardiovascular benefits. Unless you are speed-digging a garden bed, your heart rate will probably not get into aerobic range for a sustained period of time. Heavy lifting like turning compost or digging wet or rocky soil can boost your heart rate for a brief time. Work it into your exercise regimen much as you would for sprints. Think of it as shovel sprinting. If you consider heavy garden work as a complement to what you do in the gym or on the track, you can greatly enhance the exercise benefits of organic gardening.
Reducing Chemical Exposure
The danger of exposure to agricultural chemicals is well known. Exposure to pesticides and herbicides has been implicated in all of the following health problems:
- Neurological disorders: such as anxiety, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, Alzheimer's disease, and personality changes
- Reproductive disorders such as: birth defects (including oral clefts, neural tube defects, heart defects, and limb defects), stillbirth, miscarriage, and infertility
- Child behavior disorders including: learning disabilities, mental retardation, hyperactivity and attention deficit disorders
- Adult and child cancers such as: soft tissue sarcomas, malignant tumors of the connective, lung cancer, and breast cancer
- Immune system weakening and autoimmune disorders
- Asthma and allergies
- Parkinson's disease
- And there is much, much more
One of the most enduring benefits of organic gardening is that it completely eliminates this danger. There are no dangerous substances to store, eliminating the need to worry about accidental poisoning of your pets, children, or wildlife. There are no dangerous substances to mix, no contaminated containers, and no poisons on tools, gloves, or work benches. The real dangers of having a concentrated nerve toxin around the house are gone, as are the real worries associated with typical chemical gardening.
One of the hidden benefits of organic gardening is how much you will learn. Organic gardeners try to work with and mimic natural systems to get the most of their gardens. This requires observation, investigation, thoughtfulness, and experimentation. Because nature is complex and confusing, acquiring a working knowledge is a long-term activity. With each crop planted and with each season your knowing will grow and grow, even without consciously trying. With time you will know so much about organic gardening, people will come to you with questions. Learning is gained by experience, which is why an experienced gardener is such a valuable resource. Take advantage of those that are willing to help you and pay it forward with what you've learned.
Rejuvenating the Spirit
It doesn't take an expert to realize that the garden is a calming and peaceful place. Most of feel it each time we go into our gardens. The therapeutic benefits of peaceful garden environments have been understood since ancient times. In the 19th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and considered to be the "Father of American Psychiatry" reported that garden settings held curative effects for people with mental illness. Horticultural therapy is recognized as a practical and viable treatment with wide-ranging benefits for people in therapeutic, vocational, and wellness programs. Rehabilitative care of hospitalized war veterans in the 1940's and 1950's greatly expanded the practice of horticultural therapy. Today, it is taught and practiced in countries and cultures across the globe.5 One of the happiest benefits of organing gardening is the creation of these healthy and curative environments.
|- Building Community|
|- Enhancing Natural Systems|
|- Building Healthy Soil|
|- Reducing Pollution|
|- Reducing Waste|
There are few things for gratifying than giving away vegetables. The look of glee on the faces non-gardeners is priceless. You will be regarded with genuine appreciation and a sense of awe. For those who don't grow, producing a vegetable on your own is a wondrous thing. Share your bounty with others; the feeling will make your day.
If you are unlucky enough not to have garden space, perhaps you are lucky enough to become one of the thousands of community gardeners across the nation. Community gardens are an excellent place for you to rent a plot of land to grow your vegetables. You may want garden space, but you'll get much more. You sign up for a garden and you get a community.
The community garden is a neighborhood in microcosm. The camaraderie that develops between disparate individuals coming together for a common purpose can be amazing and inspirational. Your neighbors may begin as strangers, but over the course of the growing season can become friends. The bonds that may develop can extend well beyond the garden---into a circle of friends or into the surrounding community.
For example, in the 2009 growing season the gardeners of the Cascade P-Patch in Seattle donated more than 1200 pounds of food to the local food bank. Twice a month, individuals harvested produce from their own plots and from a common plot devoted to the food bank (called the Giving Garden) to feed their hungry neighbors. Where individuals coming together create more than the sum of their efforts is just one more of the synergistic benefits of organic gardening.
Enhancing Natural Systems
Organic gardens support a wider variety of natural creatures than conventional farms and gardens. An organic garden isn't a natural ecosystem, but it is close to it. By working with natural systems, organic gardeners create an enhanced garden "ecosystem" biased towards fruit and vegetable production, but still including and encouraging a diversity of flora and fauna. Building healthy soil improves natural habitat for all soil-dwelling organisms. An organic garden makes room for birds and insects, without adding harmful byproducts to the local environment.
By contrast, a traditional garden uses up the indigenous soil nutrients and actively discourages insects and soil micro-organisms. Typical traditional gardening practice will poison all insect and soil life indiscriminately and will stimulate plant growht by using strong incomplete chemical fertilizers that give nothing back to the soi, and in the end kill it. It's ironic that in an attempt to grow living things, so much that makes the garden a living environment is killed in the process. One of the ethical benefits of organic gardening is the affirmation of life, and eschewing that which promotes ecological death.
Building Soil Health
Organic gardening by its very definition improves the quality of the soil. Amending the soil, cultivating, composting, mulching, and top-dressing all significantly alter the soil environment for the better, bringing and maintain a living ecosystem under the garden. Organic gardeners know that a healthy living soil will support a stable ecosystem of soil-dwelling flora and fauna, and will sustain them for many years. Among the many benefits of organic gardening is the practice of preserving and improving the chief asset of our national agriculture, our soil. Industrial farming practices cannot make the same claim.
The most far reaching of the benefits of organic gardening is the reduction of environmental pollution. Organic gardeners and farmers have a strong commitment to the land. They don't abuse the land, knowing that it will provide for them for many years to come. They are far less likely to use the kind of agricultural processes which result in loss of topsoil, toxic runoff and the resulting water pollution, soil contamination and poisoning of insects, birds, and beneficial soil organisms.
The environmental degradation from large scale agricultural practices is well documented. But what is less well known is that the use of pesticides and herbicides occurs at the same concentration, or more, per acre in conventional suburban and urban gardens. This means that the effect on groundwater is as bad or worse when other pollutants are considered in the city as on rural farmland.
This also means that the chances of having pesticide residue on your vegetables are just as great. Why grow a garden only to poison yourself?
Another of the benefits of organic gardening is the natural economy of organic practices. Organic gardening naturally uses less raw materials and returns more back to the soil and the environment. Because soil building and making compost is so central to organic gardening, almost all plant material is returned to the earth. Materials brought into the garden, such as fertilizers and soil amendments are all natural products which decompose harmlessly into the ground. The same is true for mulches and top-dressing.
Additions benefits of organic gardening center on the issue of sustainability. Recom-mended organic practices encourage sustainability and discourage the use of non-biodegradable materials, and substances that create a detrimental effect on the earth's environment.
In contrast to the collateral damage done to the environment by agribusiness, you can create multiple collateral benefits of organic gardening. In addition to growing your own food organically, you can expand your sphere of influence by supporting your local organic farmers and organic agriculture, in general. Beyond those benefits of organic gardening described above, organic farming provides these additional benefits:
Meeting Superior Standards
Organic certification is a far more stringent standard of quality than anything required of conventional farming. It assures the public that products have been grown and handled according to strict procedures without persistent toxic chemical inputs.
Maintaining Water Quality
Organic farmers are good stewards of vital resources and do not degrade essential the water on which we all depend. The elimination of polluting chemicals and nitrogen leaching, done in combination with soil building, protects and conserves water resources. Benefits of organic gardening and farming extend to the many compromised watersheds in farming communities across America.
The loss of a large variety of species (biodiversity) is one of the most pressing environmental concerns. Organic farmers and gardeners have been at the forefront of collecting and preserving varieties of seeds, and growing unusual varieties for decades.
Preserving Healthy Farming Communities
USDA reported that in 1997, half of U.S. farm production came from only 2% of farms. Organic agriculture can be a lifeline for small farms because it offers an alternative market where sellers can command fair prices for crops. Perhaps the benefits of organic gardening and farming will provide the impetus needed to greatly increase the number of organic growers throughout small farm communties across the nation.
1. Organic Gardening Almanac 1995 Are Organic Foods Really Healthier For You?
Walter J. Crinnion N.D.
2. United States Environment Protection Agency [www.epa.gov]
3. State of California Department of Pesticide Regulation [www.cdpr.ca.gov]
4. New York Times June 17, 2003
A Second Opinion on Sunshine: It Can Be Good Medicine After All---Jane E. Brody
5. American Horticultural Therapy Association [www.ahta.org]