How gardening can make you an environmentalist

Growing plants and vegetables is one of the greenest things you can do. Gardening can help reduce your environmental footprint, but it also highlights the interconnectedness of all the different parts of an ecosystem. To have a successful garden, a gardener needs to understand the relationships between soil, plants, biodiversity, climate, and water. In doing so, gardens can become a microcosm of the broader natural environment that we live in and depend on.

In our fast paced, technology infused lifestyles, it can become easy to forget that we are a part of nature. Our technology can give us a misguided direction that we have control over nature. We live lifestyles that are often very separate from nature. We’re lucky if we have time to get out of the city and go deep into woods and grasslands where our ancestors lived for thousands of years.

Photo: Juliacasado1

But gardening is a way to reconnect with nature. Whether you’re in the suburbs or the city, anyone can grow at least a few plants. When you take the time to understand the needs of a plant, it becomes more obvious how important it is for humanity to take care of and respect earth, rather than exploiting it for short term profits. But how?

Let’s start with soil. Soil is the foundation of land based ecosystems. The healthier the soil, the healthier the plants and the healthier your vegetables. If you’re growing tomatoes on your balcony or in your backyard, you will probably learn about the value of healthy soil that is rich with microorganisms and worms. Using pesticides that harm them would seem counterintuitive. This forces us to think about how pesticides are used more broadly in commercial agriculture. Across the world, 50.9 million hectares of

farmland are organic[1] which accounts for 3.33% of global agriculture. The vast majority of our food is grown with pesticides that cause environmental and human health problems. Instead of using pesticides, gardeners think about organic and holistic approaches to controlling pests.

Gardening forces us to think about biodiversity. The more diverse your garden is, the more resilient it will be to pests, droughts and other threats. Take aphids for example. Aphids can infest certain plants in your garden. But if you plant a variety of species and plants, aphids won’t be able to spread everywhere. Commercial monoculture farming necessitates the use of pesticides because there is much less biodiversity. If you have diverse garden, it will attract insects like ladybugs that are a natural predator of aphids. Here we see how a gardener can come to understand the value of biodiversity. 

What about water? You wouldn’t want to pour contaminated water on your tomato plants. Doing so could damage the plant and might contaminate the tomatoes you’re planning to eat. This highlights the importance of clean water for agriculture. But alarmingly, 80% of wastewater generated by society flows back into ecosystems without being treated or reused.[2] This is a significant issue that was the theme in this year’s World Water Day.

Then there’s climate. Having a garden forces us to notice weather patterns. Planting seedlings requires us to know when the last frost will be. Certain varieties of plants require lots of water while other plants are more drought tolerant. Gardeners might notice trends in a changing climate over the years, with more extreme weather events that can cause damage to gardens. More frequent and intense heatwaves can really affect the productivity of vegetable gardens. Gardeners rely on a climate that is consistent and predictable. Because the success of our gardens is partially dependent on the weather, gardeners will be much more aware of weather abnormalities caused by climate change might.

Since gardeners know the value of compost, they might be more prone to reducing the amount of food waste they produce. Gardeners will understand how compost is a vital and might decide how to make their own compost out of food scraps and yard waste. This reduces their environmental footprint because less organic materials need to be trucked to centralized composting facilities.

Overall, gardening connects us to nature. Taking care of a garden ecosystem gives us insights about the needs of the broader environment we depend on. When we understand that the health of our garden relies on clean water, biodiversity, stable climates, and healthy soils, it makes sense that the broader global environment relies on the same. It’s troubling that the society around us continues to affect the natural environment in negative ways. And the knowledge that gardeners have about ecosystems can result in the development of an environmentalist outlook.

Gardeners can find solace in knowing that they can contribute to creating a healthy garden ecosystem in their own little corner of the world. As environmental problems continue, it will be important for younger generations to engage nature through learning about gardening.

By Nate Van Beilen

[1] http://www.fibl.org/en/themes/organic-farming-statistics.html

[2] http://www.worldwaterday.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Fact_sheet_WWD2017_EN.pdf