That’s why we’re crazy garden nuts who spend our days shouting from the rooftops to try to convince people to start gardening and spending time outdoors – for their own sake and the sake of the communities they live in.
Ultimately, we want to live in a world that no longer recognizes the arbitrary distinctions between garden, lawn, park, and farm, by turning all areas that humans inhabit into multi-functional, edible organic landscapes that perform a wide range of ecosystem services.
What Are The Benefits Of Gardening? A Picture Says A Thousand Words.
The image below gives you a quick visual summary of some of the main benefits of gardening. If you want to get more details and see the referenced sources of where this info comes from, keep reading further down the page.
The Benefits of Gardening: A Deeper Dive
1. GET A HIGH RETURN ON INVESTMENT (ROI)
Imagine you had a magical piggy bank. For every $1 you stuffed into the oinker, it gave you $8 back at the end of the year. Would you invest in that piggy bank? Yep.
The good news is you can grow your own magical piggy bank: it’s called a garden. If you’re reasonable about your approach and learn the basics of organic gardening, it’s not at all outlandish for you to get $8 back for every $1 you invest in your garden, according to research from the National Gardening Association.
What about community gardens? A 2014 study by University of California Cooperative Extension found that members of community gardens in the area grew $435 of food per person in the spring & summer alone. Now, considering most areas of the country can also grow cool weather food crops in the fall and winter relatively easily, that’s some serious grocery savings.
- source: http://fyi.uwex.edu/danefoodsystem/2014/08/06/community-gardens-save-money-provide-fresh-produce-for-low-income-gardeners/
2. INCREASED HOME VALUES
Humans like plants and green spaces. Whether we realize it or not, it’s been proven that gardens and parks and forests (nature) makes us feel much, much better.
So it should come as no surprise that neighborhoods and communities with more gardens and parks are considered more attractive (thus more valuable) to people.
In one study, an 11% increase in the amount of greenery (which equated to a 1/3 acre garden/park within a radius of 200 to 500 ft from the houses studied) increased the sales price of the houses by approximately 1.5% relative to other comparable homes.
This result isn’t just true for higher socioeconomic neighborhoods; in fact, it’s even more true for poorer neighborhoods. Researchers studied the economic effects of 54 community gardens in St. Louis, Missouri, over the course of ten years (1990-2000). The results? Median rent, median home values, and homeownership rates all increased the closer the homes were to the gardens.
“We find that community gardens have, on average, significant positive effects on surrounding property values, and that those effects are driven by the poorest of host neighborhoods (where a garden raises neighboring property values by as much as 9.4 percentage points within five years of the garden’s opening).”
Interestingly, gardens can even be used to reduce urban crime in blighted areas! In Philadelphia, “burglaries and thefts in one precinct dropped by 90 percent after police helped residents clean up vacant lots and plant gardens.”
Now, would a garden or fully edible organic landscape increase your home’s value? It will likely depend on two factors: 1) the prevailing culture where you live (Portland, Oregon has a different culture than Birmingham, Alabama); and 2) how visually attractive the garden space is. Personally, if we were home shopping, we wouldn’t even consider a house that didn’t have edible perennials (fruits, nuts, vines, canes) and soil that hadn’t been contaminated by years of poison applications from various lawn treatments. If there was an established edible organic landscape already there, we’d likely swoon and be ready to make an offer long before we ever saw the inside of the house.
3. CREATE LIVING SOIL INSTEAD OF LOSING DEAD DIRT
Did you know that conventional farms in the US lose 6 pounds of topsoil for every 1 pound of food eaten? While this is good compared to other countries like China which loses 20 pounds of topsoil for every pound of food eaten, it’s absolutely unsustainable.
What’s the alternative? Well-managed biointensive/sustainable mini-farms (certified organic, permaculture, etc) can actually REGENERATE up to 20 pounds of soil for every 1 pound of food eaten.
Considering estimates that we have about 60 years of arable topsoil left on the planet at our current rate of depletion and that good soil is critical to producing healthy food, which option do you think makes more sense: losing soil when we grow food or building soil when we grow food?
You can support farmers that are using regenerative growing practices AND you can jump on board and use these same practices in your own garden by learning about no-till organic and permaculture approaches to food production. By saving money growing some of your own food, you’ll also be able to afford higher quality organic foods at the store.
4. REDUCE ENERGY WASTE
In the US, it takes a whopping 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food on a conventional farm.
Don’t want coal ash in your rivers and lakes, fracking-induced earthquakes and pollution, etc? Would you rather reap the economic and health benefits of seeing the US lead the world in innovating new technologies and community designs necessary for a clean energy and clean food economy? Even if you don’t have an engineering degree from MIT, you can still help.
How much fossil fuel does it take for you to walk outside into your garden or down to the community garden to harvest food?
- source: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/10-calories-in-1-calorie-out-the-energy-we-spend-on-food/
5. PUT SOME OF YOUR CARBON EMISSIONS BACK IN THE SOIL
Let’s say the combined gardening space available to you and some of your willing neighbors is 1 acre. Together, you decide to convert those areas to gardens and/or edible organic landscapes. At your starting point, the topsoil is about 6″ deep (about average), of which 1% is soil organic matter (SOM). 58% of that SOM is carbon, so you have roughly 11,038 pounds of carbon in your topsoil when you start.
Over the next year, using organic and permaculture practices, you increase your SOM to 2% (not unreasonable). You now have 22,076 pounds of soil carbon, which also corresponds with more soil microbes (carbon isn’t just lying dead in your soil, it’s tied up in carbon-based organisms: plants and microbes). More carbon and microbial life in your soil generally correlates with much better plant health, better soil water storage capacities, cleaner water runoff, cleaner air, etc..
Given that the average carbon dioxide emissions per person in the US are 44,000 pounds/year (5x higher than the world average), you’ve managed to put a pretty big dent in your carbon pollution – and your reward is delicious fresh food at a lower cost. Each year that passes, you can continue to increase your SOM and soil carbon, especially if you mix lots of perennial plants/trees in to your garden system.
6. PUBLIC INVESTMENT / LOCAL TAX BENEFITS
Studies have shown that cities and municipalities get an enormous return on investment from supporting community gardens and green spaces. Why? It makes for happier, healthier people, more cohesive communities, and more attractive living spaces, which then increases property values while reducing government expenditures.
In New York: “gross tax benefit generated by all community gardens over a 20 year period amounts to about $563 million. Under the scenario in which the local government would have fully subsidized the garden provision [which is rarely the case], the city’s total investment would have amounted to about $83.5 million. Thus, the estimated net tax benefit would be, in the aggregate, about $480 million or, per garden over $750,000.”
In Milwaukee, it was found that the average community garden added approximately $9,000/year to city tax revenue.
7. IMPROVE YOUR HEALTH
There are literally piles and piles of studies showing the many health benefits you can enjoy as a direct result of gardening. Not just physical health, but mental/psychological benefits as well. In fact, there’s so much research and so many documented health benefits associated with gardening, that we’d need to write a book, not a few paragraphs, to cover them all.
Here are a few of the proven benefits of gardening to make the case:
- Reduced Risk of the Most Deadly Diseases – What kills more people in the US than anything else? Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer… The easiest “cure” to these awful diseases is prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), perhaps the best preventative measure is gardening. Doing other moderate-intensity activities like walking and biking for at least 2.5 hours/week works great too, but those who choose gardening, exercise for 40-50 minutes longer than those who choose other activities. (Any spouse who’s shouted “honey, it’s time to come inside now,” knows why this is. (source)
- Improved Mental Outlook – Want to feel great – less mental fatigue, improved life outlook and life satisfaction, improved ability to recover from illness, and more? Diet certainly helps. Exercise certainly helps. But “green exercise,” aka exercise conducted in beautiful outdoor environments will help even more. We still do intense weight training sessions for optimal health/lean muscle mass, but nothing makes us feel better than working in the garden. (source)
- Feel Younger – A study in the Netherlands found that “a ten percent increase in nearby greenspace was found to decrease a person’s health complaints in an amount equivalent to a five year reduction in that person’s age.” How would you like to feel five years younger? (source)
- Depression – A Norwegian study found that 50% of participants with depression, bipolar II disorder, or persistent low mood, experienced significant measurable improvement through six hours of gardening per week over a three month period… and the mental improvements persisted when tested again three months after the program ended. (source)
- Picky Eating Children – Don’t want to raise picky eaters or want to break your child’s picky eating habits? Studies have shown that children who garden, eat more fruits & veggies AND they’re more adventurous about trying new foods. (source)
- Dementia – Multiple studies following people in their 60s and 70s for 10+ years have found that people who gardened regularly had significantly lower risk (36% -47%) of dementia than non-gardeners (even excluding other factors). (source)
- Better Diets – Gardeners and their children eat healthier, more nutrient-rich diets than do non-gardening families. They also eat far more fresh fruits and vegetables. (source)
- Lower Cholesterol & Blood Pressure – Gardening causes significant beneficial changes in total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure. (source)
- Stress Relief – Gardening drastically reduces stress, increases positive mood, and decreases cortisol levels (stress hormones) – and the effects were still present 30 minutes after the study participants had stopped gardening. (source)
Ok, if you’ve read this far, you get the point. Gardening is great for your mental & physical health, great for your kids, great for your wallet, great for your neighborhood, and great for your community/city. No more excuses – if you’re not gardening yet, now is the time to start!
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