I think that people who don’t garden tend to have a very idealistic view of what it must be like. Zen hours in a beautifully manicured cottage garden, surrounded by perfectly robust plants, just dripping in fresh produce. Nary a critter or weed to be seen. Beautiful, golden rays caressing your shoulders in warmth and gentle light. Cue the lounge chair and the obligatory margarita.
Spoiler alert: That ain’t reality.
The reality is slugging water jugs to and from your plants when it hasn’t rained in weeks. Picking squash bugs off of plants and scraping eggs off of leaves. Sunburns. Hands and feet so dirty they’re stained. Callouses and blisters. Hours and hours in hot kitchens while you process those veggies so they don’t go to waste. It is some hard, hard work.
Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade. -Rudyard Kipling
Don’t get me wrong – growing your own food is massively rewarding and fulfilling. The satisfaction you feel when you bring a full bucket of fresh vegetables in from the garden is immense. Being able to put pound after pound of fresh, nutritious food in your freezer and jar after jar in your pantry. The joy when your toddler squeals at the sight of broccoli shoots in the garden, and proceeds to eat every. single. one. off of a plant. When a pre-teen animatedly tells you how “other kids don’t know what they’re missing” when they hurriedly shovel a huge plate full of sautéed kale in their mouth. They’re great moments… but those moments are earned.
We’ve had a garden for about 12 years now. It’s a non-negotiable part of our lives. It takes priority for our waking hours for a majority of the year and we put a lot of time, money, hard work and love into that dirt. Most of the time, it pays us back in food. But there have been years where we got nothing. Deer eat all of the tomato plants. Moles eat the sweet potatoes. Insects destroy the greens. Squash bugs devastate the winter and summer squashes. Disease will slowly wipe out a whole plot in no time flat… and there’s nothing you can do but die a little inside. It can be a pretty emotional undertaking. You love that garden like it’s your child.
If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden. – Robert Brault
But why bother?
I bother for lots of reasons. I have four kids. I am acutely aware of every little thing they consume. I worry about nutrition. I worry about chemicals that our industrial food system sprays on everything. I worry about flavor and quality. Plus, honestly, food is expensive. I don’t know that gardening is a cost-saving measure in every situation. My tomatoes are probably a little expensive. They have flavor, though. That alone makes it worth it. I know for a fact that I can grow arms full of greens for a fraction of the price of organic greens at the store, though. Seriously, have you seen those prices? I live in the sticks, and kale, spinach, collards and mustard greens are consistently $4+/lb. We’ve all watched that mountain of greens shrink down into a handful of cooked leaves, too.
I think that more than anything, I do it because I’m stubborn. I don’t want to rely on a store. Or a farmer. Or an industrial food system. I want to know that we can provide sustenance for our children. I want to know exactly what I’m ingesting – and, more importantly, what I’m not. I want to teach my kids that cooking doesn’t mean opening a few cans and boxes and stirring things together in 10 minutes. Real food takes time. It take commitment. It takes work. It takes love. Is there really anything more important to teach our children than good things are worth time, commitment, hard work and love? I sure can’t think of any. Plant a garden, save the world, right?
Plus, you get fresh tomatoes.