The Year of the Garden: 11 Great Reasons to DIY

Love to garden?

You’re not alone: In 2013, there were 85 million DIY gardeners in America and “food gardening” had increased for six straight years. In addition to the obvious benefits, the poet May Sarton writes, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.”

If you want to connect with your food, your land, your family, and your health, gardening is the best thing you can do. Here are 11 great reasons to grow one this year:

1. Heirloom seeds

Heirloom seeds are seeds from a particular plant that has been passed from one generation to another, being saved because there was something exceptional about the variety: This could be productivity, adaptability, flavor, hardiness, or all of the above. Some heirlooms date back over 300 years. For a great seed resource try rareseeds.com—their assortment of cream-of-the-crop heirlooms boggles the mind.

2. GMO-free

GMOs pose some serious questions for our health: circumvent the whole discussion by growing your own produce—stick to heirloom or organic seeds and your bumper crop will be GMO-free and seriously healthy!

3. Farm-to-fork

As Wendell Berry said, “To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.” One of the biggest trends in food is knowing its provenance: where it came from, how it was grown, and how far it traveled to get to you. This way you can take out the guesswork.

4. Buying local

If you are going to buy plants to transplant into your garden, be sure to buy local. Your nearby garden centers or farmer’s markets will sell the varieties best suited to your area.

5. The kids are all right.

What is a better prescription for kids’ long-term health than connecting with family, spending time outside, cultivating a good work ethic, exercising, developing a taste for fruits and veggies, and learning healthy lifelong eating patterns?

6. ROI

The average household spent $70 on their 600 square foot food garden and received $600 of value.

7. Burn it

Gardening burns about 300 calories an hour according to the American Council on Exercise—if the average gardener works at it five hours a week, that’s 1,500 calories a week torched. Fill up on healthy leafy greens and you’ll be fit and losing weight before you know it.

8. Food desert? Not if I can help it.

If you happen to live in a food desert, DIY gardening is an obvious great solution. Even if you don’t, for most people to put a salad on the table means planning ahead or making a special trip (greens don’t stay fresh long) and outputting some cash for the good stuff. Much better to send a kid into the backyard for some lettuce, cukes, and tomatoes.

9. Veggies keep you healthy.

The micronutrients in organic veggies are tremendous immune boosters and help prevent a long list of diseases, and most Americans need to be getting more than they are. Numerous studies have shown (not surprisingly) that home gardeners eat much more fresh produce than non-gardeners. Studies also show that children are much more likely to eat fruits or veggies if they’ve had a hand in growing them.

10. It’s smart

There’s a reason 79 percent of gardeners are college-educated. The fresh air, exercise, stress reduction, and healthy eating habits that come with a garden are a powerful recipe for clear thinking.

11. Cosmic purple

Grocer doesn’t carry those delectable cosmic purple carrots that are yellowish-orange on the inside and taste spicy and sweet? Yeah. Many first-time gardeners have a moment of enlightenment when they bite into their own produce and say, “Ah! So this is what _________ is supposed to taste like.”