Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Get in touch with your roots

I humbly offer you a seemingly unrelated set of questions that have been bugging me of late:

One: With all the discussion about our impact on the environment and our need to adopt more sustainable living practices, what does a sustainable culture really look like?

Two: How can we effectively combat the growing trend of obesity in youth in the developed countries?

Three: How can we effectively care for soldiers struggling with the emotional problems caused by the trauma of war?

I submit that all three of these questions are related by their answer: Plant vegetable gardens.

Tens of thousands of years of evolution shaped us to be successful as hunter-gatherers, and thousands more have molded our agrarian skills. For millions of years, we humans had our hands in the dirt. We worked, physically laboring with simple tools, working with the forces of nature and other living things. The force of natural selection demanded that we be good at these things. And yet, most of us no longer do any of them.

So lets get down to just what planting a vegetable garden will do to help with such diverse problems. The first one is simple. Food grown in your own yard doesn’t have to be shipped on a truck to your local grocery store. Now unless you can manage a really ambitious garden, you won’t be putting those folks out of work. You’ll still need to run down there for a few things you can’t grow where you live, or can’t grow enough of; but you’ll maybe buy a little less.

But on to the next problem: childhood obesity. Hey, for that matter, I could stand to eat better myself! Homegrown vegetables taste better. And kids who get to pick those veggies, (I know from first hand experience) are actually more excited about eating them. Imagine how much more excited they would be if they actually helped plant and cultivate them. Now we’re teaching work ethic AND good eating habits. This is all to say nothing of the fact that gardening is exercise.

Now maybe you’re with me so far, but how about those vets, you ask? As a veteran myself, this is a subject close to home. I can’t even imagine what some of those young men and women go through. And yet, for all our bumper stickers in support of the troops, it seems, those most in need are the easiest to forget. Many have to learn to walk, or talk or use prosthetics or just function on a daily basis, all over again. Imagine what it could mean for someone to take the time to teach him or her how to nurture a seed. To watch it grow. To nurture something with the same time and care they so desperately need themselves.

Now I’ve already been shopping for some new terra-cotta pots for the container garden I’ll start in the spring. I looked up the local Farmer’s Market, and I’ve even found someone at work who sells farm-fresh eggs. But if you’re still not sold, then I’ll give you one simple thing to do. This coming fall, get yourself a little bucket, or basket, even and old butter tub will do. Drive, or if you can, walk to the nearest clump of woods you can find. Look alongside farmer’s fields, or along the edges of tree-lines. Hunt for berries.

Raspberries, blackberries, or mulberries; they’re all delicious. Careful you don’t pick anything poisonous. If you don’t know, ask someone who does. You’ll get scratches from brush and thorns. Your fingers will be stained with juice, and your feet might even get wet. Your legs will ache from trudging around in the woods, using muscles you’d forgotten you had. But they will be the best tasting berries you’ve had. Sweeter. Brighter. Better.