By the time spring rolls around, I am usually feeling a little desperate. Desperate for time spent outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine. Desperate for super-fresh greens bursting with flavor and life. And this year, having moved into a house with a big sunny yard, I’m also desperate to start my own organic vegetable garden. Because there’s nothing like stepping out your back door to grab some fresh herbs to garnish a meal, or some fixings to toss in a quick salad.
A vegetable garden is something that almost anyone can create, and Southeast Iowa has an ideal climate for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables. So if you have a little patch of land and you haven’t already started a garden, here are some good reasons—in no particular order—to grow some of your own food.
1. Spending time in the great outdoors. When’s the last time you went out and played in the dirt, enjoying fresh air and nature? On average, we spend as much as 90 percent of our time inside. Start a garden and get outside.
2. Eating really, really locally. Our food travels an average of 1,400 miles to reach us; on the other hand, you can’t get more local than your own backyard!
3. Fresh, flavorful, extra nutritious veggies. A vegetable grown in nutrient-rich soil and picked minutes before eating is much tastier and more nutritious than a vegetable that was picked two weeks ago and shipped across the country.
4. The chance to try vegetable varieties you can’t find in the store. Supermarket produce varieties are limited to those that have a long shelf life, can withstand shipping, and are uniform in appearance. That means you are missing out on a wide variety of delicious if not so sturdy fruits and vegetables.
5. Eliminating pollution. The chemicals and non-sustainable farming practices used to grow non-organic crops are contributing greatly to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is now estimated to be around 7,900 square miles. Shipping food grown in far-off places, whether it’s organic of not, also contributes to global warming and pollution.
6. Getting more exercise. Feel like you could use a little exercise following a cold winter spent indoors? According to caloriecounter.com, hauling a wheelbarrow can burn 340 calories per hour, raking, 292 calories, weeding, 306 calories, and general gardening, 272 calories. It costs less than the gym!
7. Eating sustainably. Gardening organically means nourishing the soil that grows the food that nourishes you and creating a backyard eco-system that attracts and supports beneficial wildlife in a balanced way.
8. Getting to know your neighbors. When your fertile soil leads to an abundant harvest, you may find yourself wandering the streets looking for people to give your excess vegetables to. You may end up being the most popular person in the neighborhood! (However, leaving anonymous bags of monster zucchinis on people’s porches will have the opposite effect.)
9. Getting your kids to love vegetables. Kids who grow vegetables are more likely to eat vegetables. This is also a good way to foster a child’s connection with the natural world and sense of environmental responsibility, and to help them to establish a lifestyle that includes good eating habits and outdoor activity.
10. Saving money. With an initial investment of some seeds and seedlings, and a little time, you can grow a whole season’s worth of produce that’s free for the picking. For the cost of one bunch of chard, you can buy enough seeds to grow sufficient chard to last you into the fall.
Or… Buy Local
Of course, not everyone yearns to take up gardening. If you can’t grow your own vegetables due to lack of space, time, or inclination, you can enjoy many of the same benefits by shopping at your local farmers market or joining a CSA.