31 Mar Measuring Family Growth in the Garden
By Ally Fife
In this fast paced world of digital dependency, finding ways to have meaningful family time without spending a fortune is rare indeed. To also find something to do that is worthwhile and provides skills to the participants is too much to hope for. There is, however, a task that can not only bring the family together, but it is free and full of life skills. Gardening. I hear groans from my kids in the other room, but it’s true. And once they get their little hands dirty, they realize they are actually having fun and helping the family in the process. Gardening together produces shared memories while teaching us patience.
With all the stress we carry around, finding a way to decompress is important to our health and happiness. A study done in the Netherlands found that gardening was better for stress relief than any other leisure activity, including reading. The sounds, smells, and feel of nature helps us detach ourselves from our problems and focus in the moment. Exposure to sunlight releases the chemical serotonin, which helps naturally balance the brain and fight depression. In fact, better mental health is another side benefit to working with plants. A study in Norway found that gardening relieves symptoms of depression. On top of these benefits, it can lead to better sleep patterns and an improved quality of rest. Can you imagine the family benefits of better sleep and less stress?
As a form of exercise, gardening integrates multiple muscles working together to build strength for real life functions. Pulling, pushing, bending, digging, and lifting combined is a real workout. Studies from the University of Alaska show that it is a better form of exercise for fighting osteoporosis than jogging, swimming, or aerobics. And it lowers the risk of dementia by 40%.
Nutritionally, your family will be healthier if a vegetable garden is planted and harvested. Studies of after-school gardening programs suggest that kids who work in food gardens are more likely to consume more fruits and vegetables, make better choices about food, and be more adventurous in their taste testing.
A family garden is a great way to teach children a love and respect of nature and the value of patience, hard work, and nurturing something into life. We live in a world of instant gratification, but gardens live the law of the harvest. It takes time to produce flowers and fruit. We must wait for the moment when a zucchini appears on the vine, and it is all the more exhilarating for the wait. It also requires us to be part of the process. We learn the science of how things grow as we fertilize, dig, water, and deweed. We see the beauty of the whole process and not just the outcome, and we learn cause and effect in a real and safe way. For example, if you don’t water the garden, it dies. Which also leads to teaching responsibility and a sense of accomplishment and pride in work well done. Imagine the joy on a child’s face when it is announced at dinner that he helped grow the cucumbers and tomatoes in the salad.
Just so you know, I do not have a green thumb. Far from it. That’s the beauty of all these benefits; it doesn’t require perfect skills or a bountiful harvest. We learn far more from the process of gardening than the end result, and both are satisfying.