Why do we do it--garden--when it makes us sweaty, sore, and often cranky? By the end of the harvest season, our faces are red from cooking tomatoes and putting up food either into the pantry or the freezer. Our hands are calloused and nails dirty. And yet...and yet...when it's all said and done and autumn winds chill the night air, what we're left with, besides a stocked-up pantry, is a deep feeling of strength and satisfaction. It's true. With gardening, we harvest more than food and flowers; we harvest health and healing.
It starts with the health that comes just from physical activity: Gardening is proven to be great exercise. And that, I think, comes from our stubbornness; gardeners want to have things a certain way, so we find superhuman strength to move plants, rocks, logs, or whatever else it takes to make our gardens just right. All that weight lifting, bending, and stretching, while leaving us sore the next day, also builds good bone strength and muscles--especially as we age. I bet there are few gardeners who have insufficient vitamin D thanks to gardening in the sun (and occasional rainfall)!
Another health bonus is also the healing power of the food and flowers we grow--whether it's bouquets that bring stress relief and feelings of joy or the super-nutrient-rich foods we cook, eat, freeze, dry, and can fresh from the vines. There's a powerful feeling of security and safety seeing my bags of berries, green beans, and savoy cabbage and jars of tomato sauce and pesto lined up in my freezer.
This year, same as last year, I froze single servings of homemade chicken broth (using free-range chickens from the farmers' market), with one single homegrown cayenne pepper suspended in the golden broth. It's my cold cure for grown-ups only (kids get the plain old broth). One day, when I have more time, I'd like to study the healing power of herbs, flowers, and plants so that I can grow and make actual medicines for my family. Ever since I was little, I've had a feeling that if I was lucky enough to get old, I'd be one of those scary witchy ladies who lived at the end of the lane. So far, so good...I'm on my way!
The garden also offers another type of healing that is not physical, but spiritual, which is perhaps the greatest harvest of all: A hard day spent quietly weeding provides an opportunity to pull out weedy thoughts so productive ones can flourish; a morning spent sitting quietly and watching chipmunks and woodpeckers do their business can teach us about the joyfulness of work. In a garden, we see firsthand the cycle of birth, reproduction, beautiful aging, and then death--and see new life born from the old. We witness the healing that happens after storms and crisis and know that with good soil and good gardening practices, we too can recover.
As organic gardeners, we can add an extra level of healing--the healing of our planet. We know that the ground we tend without toxins is always better off than when we started, the soil will be richer in nutrients and carbon, the wildlife more diverse and healthy. I'm always thrilled when I find bats, bees, frogs, butterflies, and birds. If they are happy and healthy in my garden, then I know that my family and I are likely to be healthy too. Gardens are more than just places to show off our landscaping skills, or to produce enough food to get through the winter (although both of those are good things!). Gardens are microcosms of our approach to living on this planet. If we heal the land, the land heals us. And then we have a bountiful harvest of healing.
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com.