Growing your own vegetable garden can do more than provide tasty produce—gardening can improve health, save money and even boost mood.
Community gardens, backyard plots, and even window boxes are gaining in popularity, and tomatoes are among the first seeds new gardeners plant. Whole generations of Americans have never eaten homegrown tomatoes—never experienced the beefy taste, the grassy aroma, the juiciness, and the silken texture of tomatoes right off the vine.
And the experience of eating your first fresh-picked tomato can be sublime. “I’ve had people tell me it was the best tomato they’ve ever eaten, and they’re probably right,” says Jeff Moyer, farm director of the Rodale Institute. It can even be life changing, sending you hunting for new healthy recipes (though we’ve got six tasty ones right here!) and boosting your veggie intake. These six women are proof that gardening can make you happier and healthier.
Gardening can save your…waistline
Michele Owens, 51, Saratoga Springs, NY
Michele Owens is in good shape chiefly because she gardens. Although she runs for exercise in the winter, she finds the sport to be mind numbing and probably would have given up on it by now if she had to do it year-round. And Owens says she’d never go to the gym to lift weights. “I’m bored to tears at the gym, but I’m never bored gardening, and I’ve been doing it for twenty years,” she says. “It’s a really complete form of exercise attached to a huge sense of accomplishment.” Every April, when Owens trades her running shoes for garden boots and starts mulching and planting, she inevitably drops 5 pounds, and the weight loss lasts all summer long. As her crops ripen, they require less work. But on April and May weekends, she’s in her 1,900-square-foot garden for up to 5 hours a day—hauling more weight and doing more squats than she’d ever do at the gym.
Gardening can save your health
Hope Anderson, 35, Grand Island, NE
Hope Anderson hated tomatoes before she planted some herself. “Now I eat them right off the vine, they’re so sweet,” she says. She started her vegetable garden last summer, in part to make sure that she and her family ate a varied, healthy diet. And it’s working. Anderson has even caught her three kids sneaking tomatoes right out of the garden (just like their mother!). This spring, they begged to pick out their own seeds and eagerly helped Mom plant seedlings. Son Bretton, 11, chose carrots, while his younger brother, Bradley, 10, went for watermelon. Their sister, Mystic-Sage, 6, will be planting her own row of corn. Anderson added kohlrabi, pumpkins, asparagus, strawberries, cucumbers, and lettuces to the mix. And, of course, Roma and cherry tomatoes—lots of them. (Toss ’em all in our spring food recipes.)
MORE: Easy Tips for Pain-Free Gardening
Gardening can save your…planet
Anita Ferry, 50, Los Angeles, CA
Anita Ferry lives in an LA apartment with her boyfriend of 13 years and her 81-year-old mother. But she makes the most of her limited space—planting containers by her front door, growing mushrooms on the dining room table, sprouting seedlings under a grow lamp on her balcony, and tending boxes on her building’s roof. She also farms a 400-square-foot community garden plot 3 miles from home. “I love knowing exactly where my food comes from—and how it affects the world in return,” she says.
Ferry finds the community garden’s composting culture very inspiring, and she estimates that at least 30% of her household waste now goes straight to her compost bin. “Composting should be made mandatory for every household, so we can cut down on all the landfills and heal our soil,” she says. “I save all my vegetable trimmings, eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea bags and add them to my compost, which in turn goes back into the soil in my garden to help nourish the delicious food I am growing.”
Gardening can save your…mental well-being
Anne Costello, 44, La Grange, IL
Anne Costello advises attorneys for a busy law firm on the technological aspects of their cases—a hectic, around-the-clock job. She’s also mom to two daughters, ages 7 and 10. When she gets stressed out, Costello retreats to her backyard garden for relief. “I always feel better getting outside and digging in the dirt,” she says. “Plus, gardening is a solitary, meditative experience that I crave. I love that I can share the garden with my family when I want to, but it can also be just for me.” And she relishes seeing things grow. “My work is so abstract and long term, but the garden gives me a definite end result,” she says. Last summer, her family’s house flooded so badly that they were forced to rebuild and have been living in a rental property, without a garden. “It was the most stressful year of my life, and I gained a lot of weight,” she says.
“I cannot wait to get back to my own home and my garden.”
Gardening can save your…bank account
Gayle Bowe, 32, New Paltz, NY
Gayle Bowe and her husband, Justin, are new parents and novice gardeners. Before their baby was born earlier this year, they decided to change their lifestyle—to create a healthier environment and more solid financial footing for their growing family. They turned to their neighbor, Jean, a lifelong vegetable gardener, to help them dig a garden that would feed their family—including ready-to-puree produce for their new baby, Henry, now 5 months old. “Organic baby food is expensive: on average, $1.50 per jar,” Bowe says. She estimates that they’ll save at least $300 this year by preparing their own organic purees. “And as far as Henry goes, I want nothing but pure, untainted goodness,” she says. “Processed baby foods are cooked at high temperatures that destroy some vitamins. Making my own will ensure that he gets all the nutrients he needs, without any extra starchy fillers, sugars, or salt.” (See which fruits and veggies you should always buy organic.)
Gardening can save your…community
Asenath Andrews, 60, Detroit, MI
Twenty-five years ago, when Asenath Andrews founded Catherine Ferguson Academy—a Detroit public school for pregnant teens, as well as teen mothers and their kids—one of the first things she did was plant a garden in the school yard. “If you’re somebody’s mother, you’re supposed to be able to feed your kids,” she says. “The only way to guarantee that is to garden.”
She’s also helped develop an urban gardening program that teaches at-risk students nutrition, construction, marketing, cooking, and farming skills. The program benefits the greater community, too—students sell fresh, organic produce from their 2-acre garden at the school’s farm stand once a week and at Detroit farmers’ markets on weekends. “Gardening has clearly given these girls skills and values they can carry with them forever,” Andrews says.
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