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Soil is The New Prozac–And Other Reasons to Grow Your Own Food

We told you in our welcome post that the health benefits of organic gardening aren’t the half of it, and that’s true. The nutrition benefits themselves are very real –
organic produce has been shown to have a greater density of nutrients than conventional fruits and vegetables—but growing at home can also save you money and shrink your carbon footprint. It can empower your kids by fostering a strong work ethic. It connects them to the earth and serves as a kind of antidote to the electronic media they’re plugged into so much of the time actually helping them focus and perform better academically. Working in soil may also be the cheapest and safest anti-depressant known to man; gardening actually has a neuro-chemical effect on the brain similar to Prozac. (The only side effect: exposure to fresh air.) Oh and it tastes vastly better —fresher and more flavor-rich — to eat sun-ripened food rather than the grocery store produce that’s chemically ripened in warehouses.

Here are 10 fact-studded, research-supported reasons why you should grow your own organic food:

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  • Nutrition 1 of 10
    Nutrition
    A recent study published by the University of Florida Department of Horticulture and The Organic Center showed that organically grown food had an average concentration of essential nutrients 25 percent higher than in conventionally grown food. A University of California at Davis study that focused on individual nutrients in specific crops found even more amazing differences: The level of certain beneficial antioxidants (phenols) in corn that was sustainably grown, for instance, was found to be almost 60 percent higher than in conventionally grown corn.
  • Focus 2 of 10
    Focus
    Kids have the ability to do all the basic work of growing food, weeding, watering, fertilizing and harvesting. This is that rare activity (maybe the only activity of their day) that fully engages all of their senses. They feel the textures, smell the scents, observe the beauty, listen to the sounds of birds and insects, and taste the rewards. As they engage their senses, they visibly slow down, relax, and focus. Research has shown that gardening helps over-stimulated and hyperactive kids focus and perform better academically. A 2004 report from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that green outdoor settings, including gardening, reduced symptoms of ADHD in the more than 400 kids in the study.
  • Flavor 3 of 10
    Flavor
    More than one billion pounds of tomatoes are grown annually on commercial farms in Florida alone, and almost none are ripened by the sun. Like most grocery store produce, these tomatoes are picked while still unripe and hard so they're easy to package and ship. Then they're ripened in warehouses with ethylene gas. The ethylene usually makes them look ripe, but still they often taste mealy, watery, flavorless, or bitter. Put Simply, sun-ripened vegetables and fruit taste better. In a tomato, for instance, the sun activates the key ripening enzymes amylase, pectinase, kinase, and hydrolase. As these enzymes release into the fruit, the starches in the flesh become sugars, and essential oils develop that create the tomato's complex flavors, scents, and nutrients.
  • Work-ethic 4 of 10
    Work-ethic
    Gardens can "offset" the sedentary, indoor lifestyles that are becoming increasingly prevalent in a technology-driven world. We don't have anything against screen time (our kids watch TV and spend their fair share of time on iPads) but we also see how happy they are when they get outside and sweat. Gardening gives them the satisfaction of physical work and the morale boost of completing tasks. Plus they get to absorb sunshine, inhale fresh air, and get a huge nature buzz.
  • Happiness 5 of 10
    Happiness
    Soil is a serotonin booster. A study from The University of Bristol in England in 2007 showed that when injected in mice, a specific soil bacterium called Mycobacterium vaccae, targets immune cells which release chemicals that, in turn, stimulate the serotonin-releasing neurons in the brain—the very same neurons activated by Prozac.
  • Connection 6 of 10
    Connection
    Growing food brings families together in the garden and at the table. The tending and harvesting rituals slow down your lifestyle and encourage more home-cooked meals. For us, there's no happier family time than right before dinner, when we head out in our bare feet as the sun begins to sink, each kid with a watering can in hand. It gives us time to chat about our days while completing a task together. It's also a social magnet that gets our neighbors talking over the fence, connecting our families to theirs.
  • Climate 7 of 10
    Climate
    The equivalent of about 400 gallons of oil is used annually to feed each American. This accounts for the energy that flows into petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, along with farming machinery, irrigation, food processing, and distribution. An organic food garden can have a zero-carbon footprint and a positive climate impact, because its leafy plants absorb carbon dioxide.
  • Appetite 8 of 10
    Appetite
    Growing your own delicious fruits and vegetables changes the way you eat, encouraging diets with more veggies and less meat. The Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that children more than doubled their overall fruit and vegetable consumption after their parents grew a food garden in their yard.
  • Safety 9 of 10
    Safety
    Foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella and E.coli are routinely found on produce grown at industrial farms. In 2006, spinach tainted with E. coli from cow manure on industrial farms in California sickened hundreds of Americans and took three lives. There is no safer source of food than your own backyard.
  • Budget 10 of 10
    Budget
    Gardens grown with minimal design cost can considerably reduce grocery bills. A recent National Gardening Association study found that the average family with a vegetable garden spends just $70 a year on it and grows an estimated $600 worth of vegetables. Gardening is the one thing that everyone can do to begin building a sustainable lifestyle. It's the low-cost gateway to a deeper, broader, more unified environmental consciousness in America.

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