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Goodness in a Garden


May 19, 2008

My house sits on 0.08 acres of land. My backyard lies 20 feet from a double yellow line. My son is an infant and I work part-time. Yet the food-loving farmer within is calling me to the dirt, despite the barriers: I want to garden. I believe that gardening can save your life (and maybe everyone else’s, too).

Move and Save

Last Saturday, I began a summer fling (which I hope will become a long-term relationship) with the northern corner of my back yard. My husband had shoveled three yards of compost the previous Wednesday till 9:30pm so that I could wipe the hair out of my eyes, rake the dirt into neat mounds and dig holes for seed Saturday afternoon. Instead of going for a drive with the family or working on the computer, I worked the earth, and it felt good. (On Sunday, it felt sore.)

The USDA says the average adult needs 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day; one hour of gardening burns over 250 calories. Working the land works the body, and it sure beats riding an exercise bike to nowhere. And it’s cheap – no membership, no out-of-the-way gym.

The seeds I had bought were also cheap. Ten packets – with perhaps 100 tiny seeds each – cost about $1.50 a pop. That’s $15 in seeds plus $100 for compost, supplies, etc. With luck, we’ll get a few months of vegetables (plus more, if I preserve them). Since I spend about $40 a week right now just on produce, that adds up to considerable savings. What to do with the extra money? Donate to the victims of the cyclone and earthquake, save towards a Prius, plant a tree.


Towards evening, I dug a long furrow and dropped in small round and long, purplish potatoes that my husband’s friend had given us. She also gave us seed onions and her prized heirloom San Marzano tomato seeds that I’d been growing inside for the past few weeks (they sat on our radiators and I moved them from window to window as the sun moved around our house).

My neighbors walked by as I was digging. “Hello farmer!” they said. Earlier that week they had explained that the previous owner of the house, an older woman, had been a farmer in Italy before she moved here. Her garden produced cornucopias of produce each summer, and she often brought them bags of vegetables, my neighbor said with yearning eyes. “The site has good karma,” they said, and I felt the tide of good fellowship flowing through me, from shared seeds to shared tomatoes, peppers, and spinach, with enough rain, sun, and luck. If there’s enough, I’ll donate to local food banks.

Local Nutrition A few years ago I wrote an article on processed foods. Most everything in the supermarket, aside from items on the perimeter, has been highly processed – baked goods with 25 ingredients, dinners-in-a-box, canned vegetables. With added sodium, lower nutrient content (heat and leaching cause nutrient decline), and low-quality, almost nutrient-free, ingredients (most processed food is primarily composed of three things: refined grains, sugar, and oil), much of it is terrible for our health. Once you’ve gotten used to not eating it, I’ve found, eating too much makes you feel sick.

In the next few months I hope I can step off my back deck into my backyard produce section, pick a few leaves of lettuce, pull a radish, and snip some green onions for a salad instead of eating a can of peas or some white bread. Doing this saves gas, for both me and for the food: transporting tasteless tomatoes 3,000 miles from California instead of buying or growing them locally and in season sucks up a lot of expensive gas and pumps out global warming carbon dioxide.

Of course, not everyone has the space or conditions for a garden – I barely do. But you can create a garden anywhere the sun shines, with containers. Pots, barrels, bowls, trash bins, anything that holds dirt will work. Containers contain only the best soil, rarely have weeds, and can sit on the deck, stoop, or any strip of pavement. Tomatoes, especially cherry, do well, and herbs love the warmth of a clay pot. Lettuce, peppers, cucumbers, and green beans also work – the larger the container, the more they thrive.

A collection of containers bursting with green feeds not only the stomach, but also the soul, of you and all who see (eat) it.

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