The sun dipped beneath the towering pines. My eyes squinted as I cut through the mess of dead tomato stems.
My kids kicked a ball back and forth in my periphery, oblivious to the setting sun. I glanced at them and smiled. Returning to my task, I quickened my snips, aiming to find a satisfactory stopping place before darkness closed in.
Fingers growing numb, back stiffening, sweat pooling on my brow, a surprising thought bubbled to the front of my mind: This feels so good.
With the busyness of a new school year, sporting events, church commitments, and other activities, I couldn’t recall the last time I worked in my garden until dark while the kids played until they couldn’t play any longer. I’ve missed this.
A feeling of gratefulness blanketed my heart as I realized sometimes the best gifts are ones we never thought to ask for.
Recently I thumbed through old photo albums my dad passed along to me. I stumbled upon a photo of myself at three years old, holding radishes in my hand, beaming at my mom behind the camera. I squinted at the old print, looking past my brimming smile and at my mom’s garden.
But I didn’t make my mom’s passion of gardening my own for a very long time. It wasn’t until three decades after I smiled for that photo that I picked up a shovel and planted vegetable starts in the soil. I started that garden for practical purposes alone. At the time, I had no idea my garden would give me much more than food.
November is a month many of us embrace as a time to give thanks. A farmer may reflect on the tangible harvest and offer gratefulness for productive season, but as a home gardener, I am learning to appreciate that the harvest is just the beginning. My gratefulness supersedes the food that graces our dinner table and fills the canning jars.
From health to family to appreciation of nature, the following reasons are why I’m grateful for my garden, beyond the harvest.
Mental Health. While scientific research points to the mental health benefits to gardening, most gardeners don’t need a scientific study on dopamine and cortisol to confirm what they already know. Just a few hours in the garden lifts my spirits and gives me energy unlike any other activity.
Physical Health. As Americans we spend more time sitting today than ever in our history, and this inactivity negatively impacts our susceptibility to disease. A meta-analysis on studies correlating disease and life expectancy to exercise level found that physically active individuals possess a 30% lower mortality rate and up to 6 years of increased life expectancy.* In many of those studies, gardening was specifically identified as one of the physical activities taken into account.
Connection to Heritage. We may consider gardening a hobby these days, but just a few generations ago growing a garden was as normal as a trip to the grocery store. When I prepare my garden for the spring season or close it out in the late fall, I think of my mom, grandmother, grandfather, and ancestors I’ve never met, and I feel a connection with my past.
Preparing My Children. Although I can’t guarantee my children will embrace gardening as adults, they will at least have knowledge, hopefully entwined with happy memories. My son will know how to plant corn, and my daughter can identify when a blackberry is ready to pick. Should growing a garden become a necessity again in years to come, they possess the knowledge to plant, harvest, and save seeds for the next season.
Giving More Than Taking. If you look at the state of modern agriculture and its deleterious effects on the soil, you will see that we’ve been taking from the land without giving back. But in a home garden, I can implement regenerative practices to feed the soil and build up the local environment. By implementing organic practices, I avoid pesticides believed to play a role in the alarming decline of our bees, and fertilizer from my yard won’t contribute to the expanding the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In a small way, by taking small — albeit imperfect — steps, I can better steward this gift God has given us in creation.
Appreciation of Nature. Before I began a garden, I took little notice of songbirds, cicadas, toads, and the millions of other insects and wildlife that make up our environment. I never asked why flowers bloom at different times and what the growth of specific weeds might tell us about nutrient deficiencies in the soil. Of course, many people are awed by nature. But as a Christian, as I observe these systems at work so synergistically, I can appreciate not only nature but also the wonderful Creator behind it all.
You see, at first gardening can seem like a static experience with one goal in mind — the harvest. And while the harvest is a wonderful thing, it’s only the beginning. The more we step out in nature and begin to notice creation, the more we can appreciate the diversity of blessings our gardens can offer us beyond food.