Sometimes, when I’m deep into my garden, starting my plants, planting seedlings, weeding or harvesting, I understand that I am connected to the earth. The cycles of the seasons and the growth of the plants parallel aspects of my life. The connection to the earth and to my food are like connections to my family and community, and it provides me an opportunity to reflect on my life’s moments and the continuum of living and being in relationship.
The relationships I speak of played out in my life when a few years back my mother was ill and living in my home. She was too ill to go many places, but would love to go outside and sit in my garden. She loved to eat the fresh berries from the raspberry bushes. She sat with me as I picked and peeled apples. She had been ill for two years and the illness progressed and eventually took her life at an early age of 66. My mother died in February and I was lost except for my thoughts of the coming planting season. I began to think about the seedlings I would start and in my mind I was making choices about which peppers and tomatoes I would grow. I gathered hope for the future from thoughts of pumpkin vines and pickling cucumbers.
I’m terribly attached to my vegetable and herb starts. I call them my babies. I worry about them dying and some eventually do. My daughter jokes that I love my baby plants more than her. She knows it’s not true, but at some point each year we transition the plants outdoors, sometimes carrying them in and out of the house each night and day to protect them from extreme temperatures. When we trust that the weather has warmed and there will be no major dips in temperature, we plant our starts outside. As there is no certainty and no control over the weather, I have learned to have faith that whatever happens to my plants is what is meant to be.
Growing plants is so much like life. I wanted to save my mother and as a naturopathic doctor, I worked hard to find the answers. In the end, I had to let go and trust that the process was part of the cycle of life. Just like in my garden, as in those moments in my life, I learn to work hard, make the best decisions I can, and put one foot before the other. It’s hard, but I learn, and the harvest of the plants, just like the moments with my family, are the rewards. This is what sustains me life’s hardest moments. Here are some reasons I am compelled to garden.
There is an amazing community around gardening. I live in at intentional community called Ecovillage with an emphasis on creating a more sustainable future for us all. We grow food together, share ideas about organic gardening, recipes and excitement about our food. Many times when I travel, I meet other gardeners and we share pictures of our gardens and brag about our harvests.
I love to go into my garden and see some tomatoes or gourds that have seeded themselves. I love watching what I thought was a pumpkin growing only to find out that it was a zucchini, and not a standard zucchini, but some heirloom variety. I love coming back from vacation and finding my vegetables more abundant than I could have imagined.
When I am feeling scattered or drained, I go out to my garden to see what is growing. Gardening grounds me and helps me come back to myself. Through the years of gardening, I have learned a lot about myself. It has been a platform for self-reflection. I have also found that since I have been gardening I no longer experience SAD, or seasonal effective disorder. My focus is no longer on how bad the weather is, but rather on what I need to do to start my garden.
My children have grown up with a garden and they love fresh fruits and vegetables. Since they were very young, they have gone out to the garden to pick fresh raspberries or apples. This year, my 18 year old daughter asked me when her spaghetti squash would be done. She had actually gone down to the garden to look at them and told me, “they are not yellow yet”. I love that she is connected to her food in this way.
The exposure to sunlight, wind and rain. Some days I will run down to the garden to plant some string beans or pick some cucumbers and wind up in the middle of a rain storm. I enjoy these moments, as I would not normally walk out into the rain, but when I am out and it comes down, it feels amazing. When I am carrying water, compost or soil, or sometimes a large bowl of vegetables, I work muscles that I would not otherwise use.
And the ultimate reason for gardening is the food. The food is fresher, I don’t need to shop as often, there is an abundance and I have more access to heirloom vegetables. When I am choosing my seeds, I almost always choose heirloom or organic seeds. It is expensive to buy organic and heirloom vegetables and fruits from the store, but heirloom and organic seeds are very inexpensive. I can grow many things in my garden that I would normally pass up at the store because of the expense. I believe the heirloom vegetables are more nutritious because they are closer to how the vegetables originated in nature. This year, I planted two heirloom wild blueberry plants. I am excited to see them grow and see how these berries differ from other blueberries I have grown.
Another benefit of growing my own vegetables, fruits and herbs is the abundance that nature provides. I generally have more than my family can eat. I will make juice, stir-fried veggies, fermentations and zucchini breads. I will freeze and dehydrate fruits and vegetables for use in the fall and winter. Every year we store potatoes, onions and garlic in root cellars. Some years we still have these til the beginning of the next growing season. Whenever we have more than we have time to process, we give fruits and vegetables away to food banks.
I have chosen to grow some of my food. It is a choice I have made because of all the benefits to my mind, body and soul. Each year I think about not having a garden and each time this thought occurs, I decide that the benefits outweigh the time and energy it takes. Ultimately we all have a certain amount of life energy and I like to spend this energy in my garden. I love to watch plants grow and I love eating fresh herbs, vegetables and fruit straight from my garden.
Dr Deanna Hope Berman is a Vermont licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and a New York State Certified Midwife. She graduated from Bastyr University in 1997 and has been practicing in Ithaca, NY since 2002. Dr Berman believes in creating a healthcare plan for each individual that is physically, emotionally and socially sustainable. Dr Berman is part of an intentional community called Ecovillage at Ithaca where she spends much of her free time attending to her medicinal and culinary herb and vegetable gardens. Dr Berman’s practice focuses on chronic illness, including the treatment of chronic lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and autoimmune disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, MS, Grave’s and Hashimoto’s. As Dr Berman’s practice is in a small college town, she also sees many college students with insomnia, depression, anxiety, menstrual issues, PCOS and more. Dr Berman lectures at the local universities and for local support groups and can be heard on the local radio and TV as an expert in natural lyme treatment.