A summer project: Start a garden

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By Mollie Cohen

Campus News
As a student, with the summer months approaching, you may be increasingly busy, or looking forward to the downtime of your summer break. Whether you have little or all the time in the world, this is for you! With spring quickly passing, now is the time to start reaping the benefits of gardening. There are endless opportunities to allow gardening to positively affect your life and community. From starting a full vegetable garden at home to making the change and purchasing organic produce, there are many ways to become involved and make a difference. Gardening consistently produces great personal, environmental and economical results.

Is Gardening Right for Me? YES.
You don’t have to be an environmentalist to see the positive effects of gardening. On a personal level, there are many reasons to garden. Growing your own produce is the best way to know what you eat. From the seed to the dinner table you stand alongside these vegetables the whole way through. There is no question about freshness, quality and safety, when you grow what you eat. You will taste the difference! “Nothing was wasted. We basically got real intimate with cow manure, which was moderately terrifying and exhilarating at the same time,” says Grace Ports, who spent her childhood maintaining a garden with her father and recognizes its benefits.

Vitamins are highly packed in vegetables. While the USDA and National Institute of Health guidelines suggest five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, growing your own produce is likely to significantly increase the consumption of vegetables daily.

Exercise is another positive benefit to gardening, that is rewarding and  highly overlooked. Not only a fun hobby, gardening requires activity, which strengthens muscles and burns calories. HealthDiscovery.net, a weight watchers support network, estimates an average of 324 calories per hour are burned while gardening for an individual weighing 150 pounds. Additionally the vitamins and exercise provide increased energy and a positive mood.

Economically, being involved in gardening has a great impact on the community. Supporting local farmers is a great way to support a small business and encourage healthy behavior. There are expenses involved in creating a personal garden. The range is decided by you. An herb garden, which can sit on a window sill and cost up to five dollars, can be plentiful for your home and happy for a wallet. Whichever level of gardening is taken, the positive outcomes will be very apparent. Growing produce also reduces waste. Crops stay fresh and are picked only when necessary. Waste from the garden can also be used as compost. Organic waste naturally decomposes to create a fertilizer, whose nutrients can be added to the garden to promote a healthy crop.

Reducing a carbon footprint is another major environmental benefit. High production farms and factories are leaving major carbon footprints in our environment. Fossil fuels, as a source of energy for machinery in large producing companies, play a major impact in global warming. Chemicals used to treat the farms contaminate the surrounding land, disturbing the ecosystem.

The use of pesticides has imposed a danger on our environment. Pesticides are used commonly to deter insects and animals from consuming and destroying crops. These chemicals are harmful to the environment, including your body. Choosing organic is one step to take towards helping the environment and also the body. The term organic is used to indicate that the product has been produced through approved methods. The approved methods of the USDA include cultural, biological and mechanical practices that encourage cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve bio diversity. Products treated with irradiation, sewage sludge, genetic engineering or synthetic fertilizers are prohibited. The USDA seal indicates a product to be certified Organic. Minimizing the purchase of inorganic produce will support the production of organic produce, which in time will decrease the production of inorganic helping the environment.

Is it easy? YES!
Community involvement also presents itself within this new found activity. Volunteer work on local organic farms is a great way to give back. Participating in local farmers markets by volunteering or selling your produce creates opportunity to connect with others and to also give back. The Long Island Farm Bureau has lists of all local farmers markets. The information for local farmers markets is simply at your fingertips. The local newspaper will have listings as well as search engines online.

Some farms have programs that involve volunteering on their property in return for the harvest of their crops. This is a great way to reap the benefits of gardening without the responsibility. There are many museums that have personal gardens in need of volunteers as well. A great organization to check out is WWOOF. This stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The purpose is to encourage and give opportunity to those interested in becoming involved in an organic, sustainable lifestyle. It is an online directory of farms throughout the world in need of volunteers. Usually they will provide food, room and board, use of bicycle or car and airport pickup for around 30 hours a week of service. Service is likely to include gardening and or caring for a few farm animals. The volunteer is responsible for their airfare and money for the weekends. For access to this, a membership of $20 is required. You can find more information at www.wwoof.org.

How do I start?
You have already taken the first step in deciding gardening is right for you. Once engaged in the amazing act of gardening, one will be overjoyed and experience feelings of fulfillment and satisfaction to be shared with friends and family. Attending workshops or asking an employee of the local nursery will be a good start. It doesn’t take too much effort. There is ample information through the internet. Forms and blogs are available for those interested in gardening tips and advice. Facebook can be used as a way to reach out for advice as well.

Gardening is a great way to meet friends, build relationships, gain life long skills and support a healthy life style. It is a way to teach and learn, experience life and the value of hard work. The benefits are endless, and anyone can do it. So what are you waiting for?

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