The Rise of Organic Gardening

Organic Gardening

Story at-a-glance -

  • Urban farming and community gardens are rising in popularity across the US, which is an important step toward building a more sustainable food system
  • Generation X’ers have become a driving force of organic gardening. One Texas nursery has seen a near 500 percent increase in vegetable, herb, and seed sales, compared to previous years
  • Growing sprouts is a great way to get started. They can be grown indoors, year-round, are ready to harvest in one week, and can contain up to 30 times the nutrients of organic vegetables
  • Before investing loads of time and money into a garden, remember to find out what your zoning laws allow
  • If you find the zoning laws prohibit or restrict gardens in your area, I would encourage you to get involved at the local level to change those ordinances

By Dr. Mercola

The above video features John Dromgoole, owner of The Natural Gardener,1 an educational organic gardening center in Austin, Texas. According to Dromgoole, Generation X'ers have become a driving force of his business. He's seen a near 500 percent increase in vegetable, herb, and seed sales, for example, compared to previous years.

This is a very dramatic increase indeed, speaking to the rapid evolution of organic gardening—or perhaps it would be better to call it a rapid U-turn, back toward the age-old food production practices that we know works, and produces optimal benefits not just for you, but also for the environment.

This new wave of consumers, who are increasingly concerned about the quality of their food, are flocking to organic gardening centers to buy their produce and to learn how to grow their own food. Dromgoole's nursery also teaches people how to address problems like pests and weeds without resorting to chemicals.

What Dromgoole calls "square-foot gardening" is also increasing in popularity, as more and more people take to growing their own food, no matter how much, or how little, space they have. 

By using a grid-space, you can increase the amount of herbs and vegetables you grow per square foot, compared to sowing them in long beds, as was typically done in the past.

Urban Gardening Is the Answer to Many of Our Problems

There's no doubt that urban gardening and farming is an important step toward building a more sustainable food system. In fact, I've been encouraging everyone to plant a "Victory Garden" as a proactive step toward fixing our broken food system and improving your health.

They are named Victory Gardens because 40 percent of the produce grown in the US during the War was in people's backyards. I really think it is possible to catalyze a similar movement for a different purpose. The new reality is that for most people, it is very difficult to obtain high-quality nutrient-dense foods unless you grow them yourself.

Food grown in your own garden is overall fresher, more nutritious, and tastes better than store-bought food—and you can't beat the price! Urban gardens are also key to saving energy, protecting water quality and topsoil, and promoting biodiversity and beautifying densely populated communities.

It may even be the U-turn we need in order to rein in out-of-control rates of depression, much of which may be rooted in the feeling of being disconnected from nature, and hence disconnected from our own selves...

According to a survey by Gardeners' World Magazine,2 80 percent of gardeners reported being "happy" and satisfied with their lives, compared to 67 percent of non-gardeners.  Monty Don,3 a TV presenter and garden writer, attributes the wellbeing of gardeners to the "recharging" you get from sticking your hands in the soil and spending time outdoors in nature.

This seems more than reasonable when you consider the health benefits associated with grounding, also known as Earthing. As detailed in the documentary film Grounded, the surface of the Earth holds subtle health-boosting energy, and all you have to do is touch it.

Walking barefoot on the Earth transfers free electrons from the Earth's surface into your body that spread throughout your tissues. Grounding has been shown to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, improve sleep, and enhance your well-being. Many a gardener will attest to the sense of wellbeing obtained from sticking your hands in the dirt as well, and this is separate from the pleasure of accomplishment that comes from eating your own home-grown food.

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Make This the Year You Start a Garden!

Aside from increasing your sense of well-being, keeping a garden can also improve your health by providing you with fresher, uncontaminated food, nutrient-dense food that is simply unavailable in your grocery store. It will also help you reduce your grocery bill. You don't need vast amounts of space either. Even apartment dwellers can create a well-stocked edible garden.

You can use virtually every square foot of your space to grow food, including your lateral space. Hanging baskets are ideal for a wide variety of crops, such as strawberries, leafy greens, runner beans, pea shoots, tomatoes, and a variety of herbs. And instead of flowers, window boxes can hold herbs, greens, radishes, scallions, bush beans, strawberries, chard, and chiles, for example.

Just start small, and as you get the hang of it, add another container of something else. To learn more, please see my previous article on creating edible gardens in small spaces. Before you know it, large portions of your meals could come straight from your own edible garden. I recommend getting your feet wet by growing sprouts.

Not only is it rapidly rewarding, producing food ready for harvest in as little as one week, sprouts are also among the most nutritious foods you could possibly grow, containing up to 30 times the nutrients of organic vegetables.

Sprouts also allow your body to extract more of the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the other foods you eat. Add to that the boon of requiring very little space, and the ability to grow them indoors, year-round! There's really no shortage of benefits when it comes to sprouts!

Rather than growing them in Ball jars, I recommend growing them in potting soil. You can harvest them in about a week, and in a 10x10 tray, you can harvest between one and two pounds of sunflower sprouts. That will last you about three days.

You can store them in the fridge for about a week. I've been doing this for over a year now, and oftentimes use sprouts in lieu of salad greens. Sunflower sprouts will give you the most volume for your work and, in my opinion, have the best taste.

Dr. Mercola's Sprout Seeds

About to plant wheat grass and sunflower seeds
- 2 days after soaking

Dr. Mercola's Sprouts

Wheat grass and sunflower seeds
– 3 ½ days post germination

Dr. Mercola's Sprouts

Sunflower seeds and pea sprouts
– 3 days until ready for harvest

Dr. Mercola's Sprouts

Sunflower seed sprouts and wheat grass
- ready to harvest

Pay Attention to Your Zoning Laws

Unfortunately, a not-so-subtle war has been waged against American homeowners who want to plant gardens on their own property.4 Legal codes that outlaw planting vegetables on a large percentage of your yard, or restrict them to only certain areas like the backyard, out of view of the public, truly defy common sense—especially considering the negative impact lawns have on the environment.

In many instances, zoning laws are simply outdated and out of step with today's world. Still, they can lead to frustrating legal headaches if you fail to heed them. It's important to realize that every city has different laws and ordinances, and there are no standards spanning jurisdictional lines.

So, while I strongly encourage you to get involved in growing your own food, please do remember the preliminary step of finding out what your zoning laws allow. There are often restrictions governing the raising of goats, chickens, bees, and even where you can plant a simple vegetable garden. If you find the zoning laws prohibit or restrict gardens in your area, I would encourage you to get involved at the local level to change those ordinances. Not only will it benefit you—it could promote positive change for hundreds of families... Below are a few organizations and resources that may be of assistance:

American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) - Devoted to community gardening and greening up communities across the nation. The organization has local chapters across the country.
Sustainable Cities Institute - Research and innovation about how to make cities more sustainable, including planning and zoning for urban agriculture
Practice Urban Agriculture (March 2010) - Information about urban agricultural zoning; lists a good number of government initiatives, plans, and ordinances that are up for vote in the near future
Food Not Lawns - A sustainability movement focused on getting rid of lawns in favor of more ecofriendly alternatives; also has chapters in nearly every state across the country
Lots 2 Green - Provides technical assistance to communities in order to facilitate their using vacant lots and other urban properties for community gardens and farms

Agriculture Supported Communities at the Rodale Institute

The Rodale Institute is another wonderful resource for anyone interested in organic gardening. Last summer, I visited the Institute to learn more about their brand new Honeybee Conservancy and research facility.5 An organic garden is a great way to promote honeybees, and both flower and vegetable gardens provide good honey bee habitats. Small-scale beekeeping is also gaining in popularity—yet another sign that people are taking both their food and their environment more seriously, and are recognizing the fundamental, if not downright sacred, link between man, nature, and food.

In the following video, Mark Smallwood, executive director at the Rodale Institute, discusses their ASC program, which stands for "Agriculture Supported Communities."

Many are familiar with the term "Community Supported Agriculture," or CSA, but Rodale's ASC program works a little differently. Instead of taking a lump sum from their customers up front, they go into underserved communities that have neither lots of money nor easy access to organic food, and offer a pay-as-you-go, weekly shareholder's agreement. They even accept government assistance checks. So each week, organic food harvested at the Institute is brought into communities such as Reddington, Bethlehem, and Allentown, PA. At present, the program feeds about 150 families in these areas.

They also teach these customers how to prepare the fresh foods they're getting, and when there's excess produce, the Institute offers classes on canning and preservation, which includes fermenting. Fermented vegetables, as I've discussed on numerous occasions, are a superfood staple that can have a tremendously beneficial impact on your health.

How to Find Locally-Grown Foods

Planting edible gardens across the nation will help support a growing movement toward a saner, healthier America. I encourage you to join us, and grow some food of your own. Also remember you can ferment your veggies, which will provide you with superior, nutritious foods during the winter months.

This is how your ancestors used to feed themselves, and it's time to revive some of this crucial knowledge about food. Besides growing your own, joining a local CSA and/or frequenting local farmers' markets are great ways to procure farm-fresh, local foods, year-round. Here are some resources that will help you find local farms, markets, CSAs, and more:

  1. Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and more.
  2. Local Harvest has also partnered with Slow Food USA in a project called The Ark of Taste, which aims to "rediscover and catalogue forgotten flavors, documenting rare breeds and excellent food products that are in danger of disappearing." Since the international initiative began in 1996, more than 800 products from over 50 countries have been added, and Local Harvest now lists growers and producers of these items.

  3. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
  4. Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
  5. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
  6. FoodRoutes Network -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.