Understanding the Benefits
Sure, you can buy vegetables at the supermarket - but what's the fun in that? People all over the world have been gardening for centuries, and for many gardening is more than just a hobby. Gardening can be about community, health, ecology, entrepreneurialism, and beautification.
This is more than a hobby. It's an attitude, a way of life.
One great thing about gardens is that they have the power to bring people together. Gardening is a pastime that anyone with a little time and patience can participate in, no matter your age, income or health. Raised bed systems (a planter on stilts) allow even those confined to wheelchairs to get involved in gardening. Everyone has their own approach to gardening, and most people are very happy to share their ideas and experience. Even though you can learn gardening from a book, or a website like this one, nothing replaces talking to someone who has been there, done that.
Gardens also provide great opportunities to stage social events. Everyone loves being outside on a nice summer day, and gardens provide a great excuse for that! From a play to a concert to just a little picnic, a garden can be great place to spend time with friends, family, and neighbors.
Check out our Garden Events page for more ideas for outdoor activities.
If we're going to talk about health, let's start with nutrition. Did you know that the fruits and vegetables you raise in your own garden are often more nutritious than those you can buy at the supermarket? First of all, nothing the supermarket offers can even compare with the freshness of your own neighborhood crop. While you can pick your produce moments before you eat it, the crop you find in the supermarket has traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles to get to the store! All that travel time means that fruits and veggies are often harvested before they are even ripe, and then it can take days (or even weeks) before they get to your plate. If eating week-old food turns you off, you should also know that fruits and vegetables also lose flavor and nutrients post harvest. For taste and nutrition, eat fresh!
Besides the advantage of increased nutrition, growing your own food gives you the power to decide exactly how it grows. While this may seem like an obvious and unimportant fact, this allows you to make decisions on whether or not you want to treat your plants with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. While many of these chemicals are not known to be hazardous to human health, they are also not good for you or the environment.
Finally, gardens help support your health by providing you with great exercise, fresh air, and the satisfaction of eating the season's first tomato. Garden tasks, like hoeing, digging, and even harvesting, can provide you with as much exercise as a workout at the gym!
If you would like to learn more about the health impacts of gardening or be inspired to get involved, check out the ACGA Publications for Community Gardening and Community Building - ACGA Publications.
Besides the freshness factor, gardening can also allow you to experience botanical diversity of the sort you will never find in even the swankiest supermarket. Because supermarkets deal with large volumes of produce, they sell only limited varieties that they know people will buy. But what if you like orange tomatoes? Or yellow raspberries? Or pink beets? Well, you better grow your own–and by growing rare plants you can't find in the grocery store, you are doing your part to protect species diversity and a stable ecosystem. Dig on!
Gardening can also have ecological benefits in cities by creating green oasis in areas where you can usually just find asphalt and concrete. Green spaces provide habitat for birds, animals, and insects, reduce runoff (by allowing rainwater to soak into the soil), absorb smog and other pollutants, and help create life-supporting oxygen. If you've ever relaxed in a shady garden on a hot summer day, you know that gardens can help cool cities down, too!
All right, let's talk dollars. Because you know that produce from your garden is going to taste better and be fresher and healthier than anything you can buy in a store, it should come as no surprise that a lot of people will want to eat the fruits of your labor, and that they will be willing to pay for the privilege.
Community gardens across the country participate in direct marketing, and sell their produce at farmers markets and even to restaurants and grocery stores. Because many people have begun to recognize the personal and ecological health benefits of eating foods grown close to home, it is becoming easier for gardeners to sell their produce.
Many groups across the country have also begun to create job-training programs that focus on market gardening (gardening to sell your produce). Because market gardening requires so many diverse skills, these types of programs are a great way to get experience in the fields of marketing, business management, organizational development, agriculture, horticulture, and education. These groups often provide incentives for you to get involved, such as salaries, scholarships, or community service hours, and the experience also happens to look great on a résumé.
Read more on Rebel Tomato about entrepreneurial gardening programs, as well as some advice on getting down to business in your own garden. To find entrepreneurial gardening programs near you, check out our National Garden Directory.
Gardening also is a great way to make your mark on your neighborhood. If you look around your neighborhood, it will probably be easy to find areas where a garden could add interest or beauty. Community gardeners all over the country have taken over vacant lots, rooftops, schoolyards, and even street medians to make room for gardens. As long as you have the permission to garden a space, even the tiniest plot can provide inspiration.
Because there are so many plants to choose from, gardening is a great way to explore your creativity and play with color, texture, and style. When you start thinking about adding walkways, water features, or seating areas, the possibilities really are endless.
To get started designing your own garden, check out our advice on basic garden design principles, or use our Garden Design Tool to get started on creating your own unique design. To see what others have done with their gardens, check out our Garden Design Gallery and Project Gallery.