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By now you’ve heard the news: We’re growing, at least physically. The average American male is 17 pounds heavier and the average female 19 pounds heavier than in the late 1970s. And the percentage of overweight children and adolescents in the U.S. has nearly tripled in that same period of time.
One of the most overlooked and effective ways to fight our growing weight problem is to grow a vegetable garden.
I’m not alone in that conviction. First Lady Michelle Obama has made gardening the centerpiece of her platform for promoting a healthier diet, especially among children. Released last week, her book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, chronicles her journey as a gardener and describes her plans to encourage gardening.
It’s true: You eat what you grow in a garden, and it’s healthier, fresher, and more nutritional than what you get from that drive-through window. You’ll get some exercise as you grow a garden, too.
Besides that, if you leave your cell phone in the house, you could receive an added benefit: You might hear those plants talking.
Of course, the garden doesn’t audibly speak, like the cornfield that whispered to Kevin Costner. But I’ve listened, novice gardener that I am, to what those plants have had to say.
I’ve heard them telling me to slow down and get in touch with the rhythm of life. It takes time to grow food; there is no fast-food garden. When we don’t recognize that, we unknowingly fall into the trap the dark side of agribusiness offers, with its endless attempts to accelerate nature into higher and higher gears for the faster and quicker production of food, a process which finally abuses farmland and farming people, severing us from the rhythm of life, outsourcing all we do.
Those plants also tell me that their ground is a sacred ground. I try to respect that. I even made up a song for them, which I sing before my neighbors are awake, to the tune, “Rise up O Men of God.” I greet my garden with, “Rise up, O Plants of God, ye creations of the Lord, bring forth your royal fruit to Him, and praise his name above.” (I’m still working on stanza two.) My plants don’t laugh when I sing, and they reward my efforts with a plentiful harvest.
I love it when my plants remind me that it’s not absolutely necessary for me to have them perfectly lined up and every weed pulled for them to be fruitful. My gardening coach, Glen Sandusky, looked at a crooked garden row in my first garden, before my other gardening coach, Phil Moss, taught me to drop a line and make neat, straight rows. “Well, you can get more in a crooked row than a straight one,” Glen mused. He’s been listening to the garden for years.
My plants have told me we are connected. And in some strange and mysterious way, I believe they are right. After all, I was there when I put the seed in the ground, brushed the dirt as the seedling first poked its head to daylight, watched it grow into a mature plant, and then enjoyed its offering of delicious delights. And I am there when it turns brown, withers and fades into the same earth in which I will one day join it, resting with it in peace.
The garden also tells me that if it’s not enjoyable, then I should do something else. Gardening is work, but if done right, it shouldn’t be drudgery. As Wendell Berry wrote in his book, The Art of the Commonplace, “The ‘drudgery’ of growing one’s own food... is not drudgery at all. (If we make the growing of food a drudgery, which is what ‘agribusiness’ does make of it, then we also make a drudgery of eating and living.) It is - in addition to being the appropriate fulfillment of a practical need - a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.”
Maybe Mrs. Obama is broaching a broader subject than simply how to maintain a healthier diet.
Perhaps the garden can tell us something about experiencing the sacredness of life in all its fullness, even as we grow the garden instead of a super-sized self.
Editor’s note: Contact David B. Whitlock Ph.D., at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, visit his website, www.davidbwhitlock.com.