Pictured is the food pantry garden at a church in metro-Atlanta, where those in need harvest for themselves each week. The team involved with this garden recently came to my store and purchased planting mix and fertilizer to top off all the beds and rows, and growth since then has been phenomenal. They document this garden on social media every week, invite people to come visit, and share everything they're learning as they grow so others can learn as well. What's more, they have a volunteer specifically dedicated each week to gleaning fresh produce that is not "sellable" for some reason from supermarkets (including ones in Decatur, Buckhead, and Sandy Springs). This person, Decatur resident David Skoke, brings between 400 and 500 pounds of completely edible healthy food each week to the 120 or so families that come to this emergency food supply location.
Several team members of this garden were or are still involved with the nearby community garden, a few have home gardens and help with school gardens as well, and some are members of weekly Community Supported Agriculture farm subscriptions. I tell you all this not just to say "wow" about what a little digging in can do for a community, but to demonstrate how one small action has a way of, shall we say, growing. If you get involved in gardening, you may find this "mission creep" happens for you as well. I've even heard it referred to as "falling down the rabbit hole." Here are some of the additional changes that may happen in your life as a result of gardening:
1. You find yourself saving cardboard and paper bags to put down in paths in your garden to block the weeds, and you start saving kitchen scraps for your compost pile, spinning composter, and worm bin. (What, you don't have those yet? You will.)
2. You cancel the chemical lawn treatment service and go au natural so your garden doesn't get any unwanted toxins near it (and you soon notice butterflies in your front yard for the first time in years), and you start wondering about rain runoff from your neighbor's lawns and how that might affect your garden.
3. You start reading labels (in case you don't already know, a 4-digit code means it's conventionally grown, a 5-digit code that starts with 9 means it's organic, and a 5-digit code starting with 8 means it genetically modified) and searching online for answers to all kinds of questions about which you never thought before. Why don't many non-organic potatoes grow eyes so I can plant them in my garden? What do you mean they are treated with a growth retardant? What does this do to our bodies? What do you mean no one really knows for sure? What about the fact that the most-eaten vegetable for children, whose bodies are still growing, is potatoes? You see how this awareness-growing process happens one revelation at a time.
Some actions you may start as a result of your heightened eco-awareness are fun, such as biking and walking more often so that you can reduce air pollution, improve your health, and (let's admit it) check on your neighbors' front-yard gardens. Other actions are labors of love, like taking the time to make baby food with fresh fruits and vegetables that you carefully select or grow yourself. A bunch of actions fall into the "does it really matter?" category, such as when you bring your own bags to the supermarket and the person behind you requests double-bagged plastic. (It helps to chalk this one up to "every little bit matters" and also that even if the actions feel symbolic sometimes, children all around us are watching and learning.)
You'll find the actions that fit into your life easiest, the ones about which you care enough to make the extra effort, and the ones with which you may actually get involved as an advocate to try to create real, lasting, societal change (such as helping change your zoning codes about urban agriculture or encouraging the creation of more sidewalks and bike lanes).
Planting a seed seems so small and simple, but, as you can see, it can have an enormous impact in heightening awareness about a wide variety of issues. It can also remind you that you vote with your dollar and you vote with your fork every single day. I hope you choose local businesses like ours to help your garden grow, and fresh, healthy food like that at this food pantry (or one that you start at your place of worship, school, neighborhood, or backyard) to nourish not just bodies but hearts, souls, and communities.
Dig in to our website for more tips, and let us know on Facebook how things are growing for you.