If we can credit our fast-paced, strenuous modern life with something good (for a change), it would probably be a renewed interest in gardening. Just about every week, we run across articles and news stories discussing yet another city-dweller who's plowed under the lawn/planted a backyard garden/set up a chicken coop. Here in the technology-packed 21st century, with all its innovations and breakthroughs, folks are picking up their shovels and gardening gloves again. Why would anyone do this when machines can take care of our entire food supply chain, from plowing to harvesting to packaging?
We speculate there are a couple of reasons for this renewed interest in gardening. First and foremost is the economy (da da da dum). In this jobless recovery, many of us are working longer hours and pinching more pennies than Americans have in decades. Despite our best efforts, we're also carrying high amounts of household credit debt. The grocery store is a place many of us attempt to save money, since our grocery budgets aren't fixed (compared to the way our car payments are, for example). Therein lies the dilemma: cut that grocery budget too much, and we deprive ourselves of the ability to afford fresh produce/high-quality meat/eggs/dairy, and end up stuck with cheaper (though not better) processed foodstuffs.
Here's where gardening comes to the rescue for our stressed-out budgets. Depending upon the climate in which you live, the quality of your soil (is it contaminated? does is grow stuff?), sunlight, and the availability of water, it's quite possible to grow produce at home for less than it costs to buy it at the grocery store. We say "quite possible" because you have to go about it in a savvy way, or your home-grown tomatoes might just end up costing more than you'd pay for them. Potted herbs are a no-brainer: they grow like weeds (especially things like mint, pictured above) and will easily save you some money. Seeds are cheap (even heirloom seeds, which are gaining popularity thanks to great companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company). However, if you're looking at buying dirt, compost, bed-building materials, etc., your costs can start to climb. Either way, produce grown at home and freshly-picked the day you plan to eat it is higher in nutrients, more flavorful, and far less likely to be contaminated with pesticides than commercially-produced crops.
A second reason for the burgeoning interest in home gardening is that it offers a welcome escape from the pace of modern life. There's something infinitely soothing about digging around in the dirt. We can reconnect with the rhythms of nature: sunrise, sunset, changes in the weather, changes in the seasons. Our bodies don't do nearly as well in climate-controlled offices with artificial lighting as they do outside, in our natural habitat. Out in the garden, life moves at a slower pace. Spiders spin their intricate webs among the tomato leaves; bees buzz in the squash blossoms; roly-polies tumble in the dirt. Nothing is frantically pinging for your attention, unless you drag your smartphone into the garden with you. Which, by the way, we discourage! Strongly! The world can wait for awhile as you immerse yourself in your gardening.
A final reason we believe this gardening renaissance is occurring is due to a basic desire to connect, up close and personal, with our food supply. With recalls of produce happening rather often, not to mention highly-publicized cases of food-poisoning outbreaks, it's no wonder we're all a bit leery about store-bought food. One also wonders about the working conditions of America's agricultural laborers, many of whom are illegal immigrants or migrant workers (and therefore non-unionized). At least when we raise our own backyard produce, we know where it comes from and how it was grown/harvested. We have much more control over what type of seeds we plant (non-GMO, hopefully), not to mention what went on the plants as they were growing.
The simple act of engaging in gardening is empowering. YOU are in charge: you get to decide what to grow, how to grow it, and what to do with your gardening bounty. It's also deeply nurturing on a emotional and spiritual level, as you come into daily contact with the natural world of birds and bees and spiders and plants. Trade your smartphone in for a shovel and get started today!