Growing up in Vancouver in the 1990s, I was a mere three generations away from my great grandparents who immigrated to Canada to farm the land, but I ate more McDonald’s than fresh foods (if you must know, Chicken McNuggets were my poison). For the past 6 years, I’ve taken an active role in learning where my food comes from – doing my best to buy local and from a farmer I know and trust. The Farmers’ Markets have become my go-to grocery shop, Michael Pollan my hero and building my local food system my mission. When I moved to Los Angeles from New York City, I decided it was time to take my efforts further and try my hand at growing my own food. After all, with a big backyard and eternal sunshine, I had no excuse.
After two years of trial and error, a lot of dead plants and heaps of compost, I am now what you might call a successful rookie renting gardener. A renting gardener means growing everything in containers and beds (no in-the-ground gardening!). Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t grow lots of delicious veggies in containers – in fact, lots of foods thrive in containers. Gardening in containers allow you to indulge in gardening without digging in the ground, and then even take it with you if you leave! Container gardens make it easy to control for pests, avoid contaminated soil and control the conditions of your garden.
But before we get in to the how-tos, I thought I should break down some of the benefits I’ve derived from gardening so far. You know, to get you motivated. Here are six reasons why you should grow a garden this fall.
1. You’ll feel like you’re 10 again
Remember science experiments? Gardening feels a little bit like that. You can get your hands dirty, try different seeds and varietie and over time, you are sure to get the hang of it and learn what works. And if dirty hands aren’t your thing, gardening gloves can take care of that!
2. Remember patience?
I get anxious when my Instagram feed won’t load for 20 seconds. Seriously. But gardening has forced me to practice being patient. When you grow food from seed, there are so many stages – you must wait patiently for the seeds to sprout, harden (meaning they are ready to go outside), grow and produce. Gardening has taught me that patience is truly a virtue, and can pay off big time.
3. Share your bounty
There is nothing quite like the flavor of home-grown tomatoes, and your friends will be crazy impressed when you have them over for dinner. And if you grow too much to eat yourselves, there are other ways to share the bounty. Fill up a box for your neighbour. Almost every city has a local pantry which is likely serving mostly canned, over-processed, unhealthy foods. Find out if your local pantry will accept your fresh veggies to distribute to those who can’t afford to buy fresh foods themselves.
4. Gardening is like a healthy gateway drug to other healthy habits
Gardening has led me to try my hand at composting, scratch cooking, working with new recipes and preserving! Growing foods that you might not usually incorporate into your meals can get you out of a boring cooking rut, and might be the inspiration you need to switch up the meals you make at home.
5. You can take control of your health, and keep harmful chemicals off your plate
When you grow your own food, you are allowing yourself to take control of what ends up on your plate. Today, over 80% of foods are genetically modified (and they don’t have to be labeled), smothered in pesticides (most harmful pesticides were approved before they were linked to cancer and other diseases) and grown using methods that are harmful to the earth. By growing your own food, you will know exactly what was used to grow them.
6. Small gardens have the power to build our local food system
If every one sourced just one meal from their personal garden, we’d see a dramatic change in how we think about food, how much we pay for it, and how we source it. Small gardens have the power to change how the food system in this country.
Need I say more?
– The Rookie Urban Gardener
PS: Need a little more inspiration to get started? I’ve had a lot of help and inspiration from various books along the way. Here are a few I highly recommend:
R. J. Ruppenthal – Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting and Sprouting
Linda Yang – The City Gardener’s Handbook: From Balcony to Backyard
Alys Fowler – Garden Anywhere: How to Grow Gorgeous Container Gardens Without Spending a Fortune
Willi Galloway – Grow Cook Eat