Written by : Paula Felps 

Can Your Garden Boost Your Mental Health?

Kayla Butts already had her master’s degree in nutrition when she got her true education in food.

When she met her future husband, a small-scale farmer who used heritage methods to grow food without any chemicals, she discovered food does so much more for us than the textbooks were teaching: “He really shook the foundation of my beliefs in our food system and nutrition,” she says. “And I’ve since then become so excited and made it my mission to help people understand that you can grow your own food and it has endless possibilities and benefits for your health and well-being.”

She shares that mission in her new book, Garden to Table Cookbook: A Guide to Growing, Preserving, and Cooking What You Eat. More than just a cookbook, it’s also a primer on how food affects us, the benefits of gardening, and how to start — regardless of how big or small your space is. In addition to outlining the benefits of growing your own food and giving more than 100 recipes on how to prepare it, she provides easy-to-follow information on how to freeze, dry, and can your own food.

And it’s all presented in a beautifully illustrated coffee table-worthy book.

More Than Just a Meal

Although she explains the way food affects our physical health, Kayla is passionate about letting people know the benefits of growing your own food go far beyond that.

“Something we don’t really talk about a lot is that gardening itself is a huge mood booster,” she says. “And science backs this up.”

For starters, she explains, spending time outside is helpful in offsetting anxiety and depression: “We think that’s because we’re more focused externally than we are internally. We’re not ruminating on those little negative thoughts that can just take over; that’s hard to do that when you are appreciating nature.”

Research has shown that gardening lowers stress and worry by keeping us in the present moment. Gardening can provide us with a sense of worth and purpose, which plays a key role in our self-esteem, and can help us connect with our “quiet mind.”

Being outside also delivers a hit of vitamin D — which is proven to boost moods and immune systems — and digging in the dirt provides a beneficial physical connection with the earth.

“You’re actually getting electrons from the soil. You absorb these electrons into your body, and then they act as antioxidants and neutralize disease-promoting compounds that are circulating in your body, like free radicals,” Kayla says.

Creating connections

The practice of earthing or grounding — which is simply connecting with the earth by standing, sitting, or putting your hands on it — has been found to improve not only your mental clarity, but also can help with sleep problems. It can ease pain and nurture relaxation. In addition to the connection with the earth, Kayla has found that it has created human connections, too:

“Once I started gardening, I realized I was connected to a much larger community,” she says. “If you ever want a ton of unsolicited advice, join a gardening club because everybody loves to share their experiences, but it’s so wonderful.”

Through gardening, she says she has connected with people from around the world as well as being able to share food with neighbors.

“If there’s somebody that you’ve wanted to connect with but didn’t know how, it’s a great conversation starter. Just to be able to share that with someone else is so meaningful.”

Where to start

The good news is, you don’t need a lot of space to start enjoying the benefits of growing your own food. For those who are tight on space, Kayla suggests starting with some potted plants in your kitchen window. Herbs are great for this, or you can plant edible flowers that will also add vibrant color to your kitchen.

If you’re ready to go bigger, she says to find a small sunny spot in your yard and start planting.

“Seeds are so inexpensive, you don’t have to invest a ton of money into plants if you don’t want to,” she says. And she also encourages people to find a local farm that grows plants and animals without chemicals to broaden the scope of fresh, chemical-free food you have access to.

“Create these relationships with community farmers. You’ll be supporting them, and they’ll be supporting your family and your health,” she says. “It’s a great relationship to develop between two like-minded individuals for sure. And it’s nice to just get to know people, too.”

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