High school junior Bridget Westrum recently discovered a passion for gardening. Based in Bemidji, Minnesota, Westrum began gardening in summer 2020. After a few short weeks, she experienced the benefits of gardening, including its stress-reducing effects and potential to help gardeners connect. Now she is doing whatever she can to give her peers the same opportunity.
In February 2020, Westrum launched a program called Growing Our Future. “The goal is to provide free gardening and seed starting kits to all youth ages 18 and under, from in and around Bemidji, regardless of their living situation or financial status,” Westrum tells The Bemidji Pioneer. The kits include soil, coir pellets, seeds, seed starting trays, plant markers, and instructional materials. Growing Our Future currently relies on donations to fund these kits. Westrum began collecting materials and assembling the kits in January. They will be ready for distribution starting in mid-March. The 16-year-old gardener is also collecting shovels, spades, pots, and buckets, and these supplies will be available for donation upon request.
Westrum is working with a group of 15 volunteers to provide a hotline for aspiring gardeners. Young gardeners will be able to call the hotline and speak to a seasoned gardener entirely free of charge.
Youth who are interested in the program can apply for a free seed kit on its Facebook group, Growing Our Future.
Of course, young people are not the only ones who stand to gain from the benefits of gardening. Gardening has the potential to benefit people of all ages. Read more about the benefits of gardening below.
1. Gardening Gives Us New Insights
These days, the norm is being constantly on-the-go. We are always thinking ahead to the next meeting, the next errand, or the next task. This means our minds are constantly busy, and that leaves very little room for creativity and being present. Taking up gardening can change that.
How exactly does gardening foster creativity? “Play with dirt. Play with ideas. Play with new projects. Play with possibilities — every single day of your life,” Fran Sorin, author of Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, suggests in The Chicago Tribune. Gardening requires trial-and-error as well as experimentation. Even the most experienced gardeners run into hurdles they may not initially expect. Overcoming these challenges breeds creativity and teaches essential problem-solving skills. According to Greater Good Magazine, a publication from the University of California, Berkeley, nature-dense activities, like gardening, are restorative. They reduce burnout and ultimately increase our ability to think critically and be productive. Time spent in nature literally gives the prefrontal cortex time to recover.
Similarly, gardening can also be a meditative experience. To make the most of the experience, garden using all your senses. Pay attention to the smells, textures, and sounds associated with gardening. Use gardening as an opportunity to freely explore your thoughts. Let thoughts come and go and, if thoughts or emotions become too overwhelming, refocus your attention on the physical sensations of gardening.
The benefits of gardening are undeniable. Best of all, you do not need anything elaborate to start. Search for online garden supplies, and get your garden started without leaving home
2. Reduces Stress and Brightens Your Mood
Not only does gardening boost creativity and create the perfect atmosphere to practice mindfulness, but studies show it also works wonders for your mood. Think of gardening like a foot soak at the end of a long, hard day. Just like a foot soak with Epsom salts can lower levels of cortisol, devoting time to gardening can have similar, stress-busting effects. “Cortisol is a hormone released by the body when we’re experiencing stress. When the levels remain elevated in our bodies, it can increase our risk of depression, mental illness, impaired immune function, weight gain, heart disease, and so much more,” Forbes explains. Forbes also reveals that just 30 minutes of gardening can significantly lower cortisol levels.
Additionally, the act of gardening releases the hormone serotonin, which reduces anxiety, stabilizes mood, and makes us happier. Together, it is a powerful combination. In fact, it is so impactful that a growing number of hospitals are planting gardens to help patients recover faster and so hospital employees remain in good spirits.
You do not need a tremendous amount of space to enjoy the benefits of gardening. NASA reveals that indoor plants can help fight indoor air pollution as well as provide many of the same mood-boosting advantages of gardening outdoors. Plant an indoor herb garden or plant peace lilies, spider plants, or rubber plants. These plants are attractive and keep the surrounding air as fresh and clean as possible.
3. Enhances Memory and Boosts Vitamin D
Researchers continue to study the impact of gardening on memory and cognitive function. One such study from Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea observed the effects of clearing a garden plot, digging, planting or transplanting, fertilizing plants, and watering the garden. The study concluded that these actions significantly increase brain nerve growth factors, like BDNF, that ultimately help us create and store memories. Likewise, an Australian study reveals that aging gardeners are 30% less likely to show symptoms of cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, than their non-gardening counterparts.
Similarly, studies show that vitamin D levels also play a direct role in cognition and memory. Those with higher vitamin D levels have significantly better memories and perform better on tests challenging their mental capabilities. Gardening typically entails regular sun exposure, which helps people of all ages absorb the recommended amount of vitamin D.
To maximize the benefits of gardening, do whatever you can to keep your garden lush and green. For example, look into quality pest control services to keep invasive pests from damaging your gardening and ruining all of your hard work.
4. Improves Strength and Exercises The Body
Did you know that one of the benefits of gardening is weight loss? While you may not initially think of gardening as exercise, several studies show that it does, in fact, count as low to moderate physical activity. “Regular maintenance, such as weeding or raking, can burn as much as 300 calories in an hour,” Garden Gate magazine reveals. Here are just a few of the exercise-related benefits of gardening:
- Gardening is a full-body workout. In addition to burning calories, gardening requires balance and dexterity. Thanks to bending over and getting back up again, raking, planting, weeding, and watering plants, gardeners are continually using their arms, legs, and core. These repetitive actions help strengthen and tone the entire body.
- Gardening improves cardiovascular health. Gardening gets blood pumping and raises gardeners’ heart rates while they work. This sustained activity is great for your heart. This, coupled with the stress-reducing effects of gardening, lowers gardeners risks of stroke and heart attack and even increases longevity by as much as 30%.
- Gardening boosts your immune system. When you garden, you are regularly handling soil. The soil found in our gardens contains beneficial bacteria, The Healthy reveals. That bacteria strengthens our immune systems, making us less prone to infection and disease.
The benefits of gardening cannot be overstated. Gardening burns calories, lowers infection risk, and may even prolong your life.
5. Puts Healthy Food On Your Table
Nationwide, Americans largely prefer to eat meals cooked in their homes. While 77% favor home-cooked meals, reality often does not reflect this preference. The lack of accessibility and convenience is one of the main reasons that consumers do not cook as much as they like.
Fresh produce from the grocery store or a market may be pricey. Some may have to travel a considerable distance to the nearest store, and fresh fruits and vegetables that have already been laying out at the grocery store may not last very long on the counter or inside your fridge. That is where growing your own produce can help.
Growing your own produce makes it readily accessible. It’s inexpensive, fresh, and you can pick it when you are ready to use it. Complement fruits and vegetables with herbs straight from your garden. Consider growing herbs like mint, cilantro, basil, oregano, rosemary, and chives. Toss vegetables and herbs from your garden into a Grizzly cast iron skillet along with your favorite protein for a fresh, easy, and nutritious meal.
Growing your own fresh fruits and vegetables ensures that they are free from harmful pesticides. Plus, you are more likely to eat the produce you painstakingly nurture and grow. Those with gardens at home make markedly healthier choices than those who do not have access to produce from their own gardens.
6. Provides an Opportunity to Learn About the Environment
Growing a garden can help demonstrate key concepts about the environment, especially if you grow and tend a garden with a young child. Starting in elementary school or middle school, get your child directly involved with the garden and use it to teach them about the environment. You may consider:
- Teaching them about food waste. Kids — particularly ones who are picky eaters — may have a difficult time understanding concepts like food waste. Tending to a garden can help. After your young child helps you plant, water, and care for fruits and vegetables from seedlings, they are much more likely to understand the value of what they are eating. Reflect on the effort that went into it, and your child is unlikely to waste food as freely as they used to.
- Using gardening to help instill responsibility. Gardening requires responsibility. Use gardening as an opportunity to teach your child to water the plants regularly, weed, and otherwise tend to them. Make it fun by giving them their own colorful gardening supplies.
- Choosing plants that help kids form a deeper understanding of ecosystems. Tom’s of Maine recommends planting seeds that demonstrate the importance of ecosystems. For example, plant flowers with potential pollinators in mind. Choose varieties that may attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, and explain the importance of the ecosystem and the pollination process to your child.
Don’t overlook the benefits of gardening, particularly its environmental benefits. Use gardening as a tool to learn more about the environment and to teach your children, too.
7. Promotes Sustainable Agriculture
The benefits of gardening are plentiful. When you plant fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs and eat the items you grow in your garden, you help keep your environmental impact to a minimum.
Known as “seed-to-plate,” planting and eating your own food reduces the need for mass transport and wasteful packaging. Talk to an environmental service about other ways you can lower your carbon footprint.
8. Benefits the Earth
Just like indoor plants help filter toxins out of the air and introduce more fresh air into your home, outdoor plants also have a cleansing effect.
Plant metabolism is a complex process that helps sustain life on Earth. Through this process, plants undergo photosynthesis and ultimately release oxygen. In other words, plants are instrumental in creating the air we breathe. Plants are necessary for humans, animals, and a healthy planet.
9. Fosters Human Connections
Don’t pass by signs to join your local gardening club. One of the benefits of gardening is that it helps build community. It brings people together for a common purpose.
Local gardening clubs may help promote or fund community projects, like communal gardens. Communal gardens are a great option to grow and harvest plants in cities or areas with limited outdoor space. Further, some may simply provide a healthy exchange of information. Gardening takes practice. By joining a gardening club, you can draw on the expertise of more experienced gardeners in your area.
10. Brings People Together For an Eco-Friendly Cause
Gardens bring people together — and these communities often work to better themselves and the planet. Communal gardens enable gardeners to use limited resources and take only what they need. Similarly, a local community may come together to rally for a new water treatment system, one that is safer for residents and more amenable to gardening. For example, hard water smells and may leave residue on clothes and dishes over time. Likewise, plants may repel hard water over time and fail to get the nutrients they need. Rallying for a better water treatment system can help.
The benefits of gardening are bountiful. Garden to improve your physical and emotional well-being, form new connections, and do your part for the environment.