If you’ve taken my free intro design course on edible landscape design, you’ll know that my passion for edible landscapes runs deep. In the first video, I talk about my journey into this work and how my desire to make a positive difference in the world led me from ornamental landscaping to edible, medicinal, and permaculture landscape design. But what I don’t talk about very often is HOW edible landscaping can improve your life (and even the world).
Today I will dive deeper into my “why”. Why do I believe whole-heartedly that edible landscaping is good for us and the planet? Why do I want to help you on your path to creating the edible landscape of your dreams?
My “why” stems from the many benefits of edible landscapes. Since college I’ve felt like my work needs to have a positive impact on the world. You might be wondering how edible and medicinal landscape design is beneficial to the world… or at least your country, the region you live in, or simply yourself. Here are 7 reasons why growing your own food, herbs, and medicine is important for yourself, your community, and/or the world in general.
Growing your own food has many health benefits:
Physical exercise, which includes a huge range of physical motions like bending, stretching, lifting, walking, squatting, digging, turning and twisting.
Exposure to fresh air and sunlight (which I believe is good in moderation, just make sure to wear a sun hat and use a good quality sunscreen.)
Control over what chemicals and fertilizers are used in growing your food. Chemicals can get into your food and damage the environment. Eeew, right?
Supports you in eating more fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs. Growing your own also allows you to harvest produce when it’s perfectly ripe and packed with tons of nutrients.
Encourages you to cook from scratch, which helps you avoid difficult to pronounce substances in processed foods. After all, if you have no idea what those long words are, do you really want to be putting them in your body?
Having a garden encourages me to be outside more often so I have more opportunities to see neighbors and we strike up casual conversations regularly. This kind of relationship always leads to excess produce being dropped off on each other’s front porches. There’s something special about gardens that brings neighbors together. Being able to share your excess food feels really great and I believe helps to build stronger communities.
I’ve also had the opportunity to share “new” veggies with the neighbor kids. Last summer, our eight your old neighbor was playing in our yard with our daughter and asked about one of the veggies. I picked a kale leaf for him and he ate it on the spot, saying it wasn’t bad. I also played a fun guessing game with my daughter and 6 year old neighbor. We grew lemon cucumbers and I asked them to guess what it was. Since they were both used to the standard green cucumbers you find in the store, they were surprised to learn that cucumbers come in many shapes, colors, and sizes.
According to the CUESA (Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture) website, it is estimated that the average meal eaten in the US travels about 1500 miles from farm to plate. (Source: https://cuesa.org/learn/how-far-does-your-food-travel-get-your-plate.) That’s the distance from New York City to Dallas, TX, which is about half way across the United States. If you’ve ever been on a cross country road trip, you can probably imagine that journey. What’s the problem with this long distance food travel? Several things:
Transporting food that far on a daily basis consumes large quantities of fossil fuels. According to the same website, we put almost 10 kcal of energy into every 1 kcal of energy we get as food. That’s a huge imbalance!
All that transportation generates a lot of carbon dioxide emissions.
Food is often picked before it’s ripened so that it doesn’t spoil during the long journey. Fresh foods are sometimes gassed after transport, which forces them to ripen. Other foods are highly processed in factories. Some are even genetically modified to produce longer-lasting, less perishable produce. How fresh and nutritious do you think these transported foods are?
Eating Locally and Seasonally
Growing your own food and shopping at a farmer’s market helps you learn when foods are in season. With this knowledge, you can start to understand that produce comes and goes throughout the seasons. That’s why, when shopping at your local grocery store, you might notice that asparagus, for example, is less expense in the spring since that’s when it is in season.
You’ll begin to know what ripens when in your garden and make the most of each fresh fruit or veggie when it’s in abundance. This may mean eating a ton of strawberries in summer only, or freezing and preserving your extra strawberries so that you can eat still enjoy them in the colder months.
Also, if you choose locally grown food, you can select varieties for their flavor, nutrient quality, and regional hardiness rather than appearance, ability to be shipped, and long shelf life. Talk about a difference in flavor and nutrient quality! And after talking about food transportation, you can imagine how choosing local, seasonal produce can help cut down on food transportation issues.
Greater Diversity in Your Diet
By growing your own food and eating seasonally and locally, your body gets the benefit of super fresh foods that rotate in and out over the year. Plus, you won’t up eating the same foods day after day since you’ll be forced to consume what’s in season. This will help add diversity and variety to your diet throughout the year.
Helps the environment
Cleaner groundwater: Plants help to filter bacteria and chemicals from the water in the ground. If designed in a certain way, gardens can also help collect rainwater and encourage it to soak back into the ground.
Reduce pollution: Rainwater that lands on roads, driveways, roofs, and other hard surfaces often collects chemicals. If allowed to flow straight into the storm drains, this dirty water often ends up directly in our local waterways (depending on where your storm drains flow to). Collecting rainwater on site decreases the amount of stormwater runoff and instead allows the ground to naturally clean and filter the water.
Reduce erosion: Stormwater can cause erosion, especially in areas where the ground is exposed. If you’re able to capture your rainwater on site and encourage it to soak back into the ground, you will also be capturing the precious topsoil that’s traveling with the stormwater.
Reduce energy costs: Designed well, edible landscapes can actually help cool your home in summer and allow sunlight to warm your home in the winter. Here are a few examples of using plants to help reduce your energy costs: Plant a deciduous tree (like a nut tree, for example) on the south side of your house to block the hot summer sun; Grow vines up the south (and even west) sides of your house to block the hot summer sun and reduce the temperature on those sides of your houses. If you don’t want to grow vines directly on your house, simply build a trellis adjacent to the wall of your house and grow your vines on that instead.
Reduces chemical use: By growing (at least some of) your own food, you can choose what chemicals and fertilizers, if any, are used. Home gardens have the added benefit of a greater diversity of plants in one area, compared to monoculture farms. Because of this diversity, there is little to no need for chemical pest control. Another benefit is that with a smaller scale garden, you can produce and use your own compost as fertilizer rather than purchasing and using synthetic fertilizers.
Growing vegetables, herbs, and medicinal plants will offer tons of opportunities for pollinators to feast every day (or at least in the warmer seasons). Much of the residential landscape in America is lawn. So much, in fact, that lawns cover four times more space than corn fields, according to Lawns vs. crops in the continental U.S. (Source: https://scienceline.org/2011/07/lawns-vs-crops-in-the-continental-u-s/) written in 2011 on the ScienceLife website. The same article states that about 1.9 percent (40 million acres) of land in the U.S is covered in turf grass. That’s some serious dedication to one type of plant.
Now, picture just a portion of that green expanse that’s been turned into productive garden beds, complete with flowering plants that support pollinators. Every bit of lawn that’s transformed into garden space will provide pollinators with more food. (As a side note, I won’t even get started on the amount of water that is used to irrigate lawns, the amount of fossil fuels used to mow lawns, or the amount of fertilizers and chemicals used to keep lawns looking healthy and green...)
I’d love to hear from you! Are you convinced yet that growing food has a ton of benefits for yourself, your community, and beyond? What small steps can you take to start growing fruit, veggies, or herbs at home? Post your comments below!