Transformed by Nature

Transformed by Nature

I found myself chasing butterflies at the Cole Road Prairie one afternoon.  While my goal was to capture images for a new website, the result was actually much more.  I truly felt transformed by my experience in nature.

When first arriving at the prairie, my mind and body were tight with stress from a morning full of deadlines, issues, and screen time.  At first, my head was still back at the office. But little by little, as I paused for a photo here and there, I became more mindful of my surroundings and my senses took the lead.  

The sights of dancing butterflies and bees softened my stressed face into smiles. The sounds of birds and insects brought a song of joy to my heart.  The fresh air and scented flowers filled me with new energy. The breeze and sunshine on my cheeks felt invigorating. I was like a new woman, at least for that day! 

That particular day helped me personally and profoundly experience some of nature’s health benefits that I had been reading about.  This field of study has grown from Dr. Qing Li’s research on shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, in Japan. Since then researchers in the U.S. and beyond have studied the benefits of forests, parks and green spaces.  Essentially, through science, they are trying to understand nature’s wisdom. 

A growing body of research suggests that time spent in nature can provide numerous health benefits.   Research compiled by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html) states: “Exposure to forests and trees: boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood, increases ability to focus even in children with ADHD, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy level, improves sleep.”  Wow, that’s quite an impressive list of benefits, check out their extensive bibliography too.

Recent research looks beyond “if” being in nature is beneficial and asks “how” it might work. One theory suggests having all the sensory stimuli might reduce brooding.  Essential oils such as pine and cedar, have also been studied for their positive effects. Even elements in the soil may produce mood-enhancing effects. This is a young field of study based on ancient ideas, and the results are looking promising!

 So next time you want to feel restored and rejuvenated, visit a natural area.  And when you get to your favorite place in nature, let your senses take the lead.

Growing a better life

Growing a better life

20150526_091012When I go into the garden, my fast-paced life seems to slow down. The texture of the soil, the sounds of nature, and the sights of new growth all coalesce into a joyful experience that transforms me from stressed out drone to peaceful human being.

Knowing that the simple act of gardening has numerous benefits eases my goal-oriented mind. Some might call this getting a lot of bang for my buck; the field of sustainable agriculture calls it stacking functions; I just know that growing my own food makes sense on a lot of levels. One small act of tending a vegetable plot benefits me, my family, my neighborhood and my world.

First off, gardening is my therapy.

My mantra is:

“I go into my garden with problems, and I come out with dirty hands. Then I wash my hands, and my troubles go down the drain.”

There’s something totally satisfying about playing in the soil. I thought it was just me, but then I read about research suggesting that one of the components of dirt could be the new Prozac*. Yes it’s true, soil really is good for the soul!

Gardening facilitates life.

To be sure the seed grows itself, but I help the seed land on fertile soil and nurture the plants. I feel incredible pride when my plants are successful and produce. I photograph my harvests regularly, as my Facebook friends can attest.

My garden helps me eat better. Because I grow mostly vegetables, fruits and herbs, my better half and I eat a lot healthier during the harvest season. I hate to see garden produce go to waste, so we are almost obligated to eat our homegrown harvest daily. And let’s face it, fresh food that is grown and prepared with love tastes and feels better.

Gardening has other physical benefits as well. My garden is a great incentive to be outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. I exercise more: moving in and out of the garden, digging my planting spaces, even adding a few yoga stretches while weeding.

Growing my own food increases my self-sufficiency, which feels empowering to me. I’m making a political and an economic statement. My food is grown according to my values. I am less dependent on Franken-farms and big box retailers. And I can do this for little or no cost by saving seed, utilizing free seed libraries, turning foods scraps into compost, and reusing containers that would otherwise go in the trash.

Gardening grows relationships.

In my experience a garden is a kid magnet, inspiring interest and dozens of questions from all who enter. I get to know the children in the neighborhood and the parents who tag along. As our neighborliness grows, I swap my berries for a fresh baked pie, or just share excess harvest for goodwill.

Gardening also helps me learn about cultures. When I grow a plant from another region, I connect more with the place where it grew and the people who cultivated it. Sharing recipes with neighbors teaches me about their culture and family traditions as well.

So not surprisingly, gardens grow communities too. Gardens can beautify a vacant lot or sterile lawn, transforming them into fresh food oases with fruits, vegetables and flowers. The people tending the garden send the message that someone cares, so gardens make a community seem friendlier too.

Gardens can benefit our environment.

When I grow naturally using sustainable practices, I promote a healthier ecosystem, preserve water and natural resources, and protect pollinators. Plus I spend less time and gas driving to the grocery store.

So next time you see me in the garden, I hope you’ll see more than just a woman digging in the dirt. You’ll see a person who, with one small act, is exercising her body and soul, growing healthy food, connecting with her community, enhancing the environment, and flexing her political power, all while increasing her self-sufficiency.

Would you like to join me? Drop me a line at jean@necic-ohio.org or 419-525- 3101 to learn more about free gardening classes and resources, community garden grants, and even a farmers market to sell homemade and home grown goodies.

Dig in and grow!