The Wellness Edge

Harvesting Health: The Undeniable Health Benefits of Growing Your Own Food

Food. It’s a basic necessity for life, we understand the simplicity of that, but how we eat and what we eat is much more complex.

A person harvesting vegetables in a garden with mountains in the background
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Food. It’s a basic necessity for life, we understand the simplicity of that, but how we eat and what we eat is much more complex.

In the 12,000 odd years since the Agricultural Revolution and the domestication of plants and animals, the way in which we have interacted with the natural world as ‘resource’ has transformed many times over, especially in regards to food. We have shifted from and between hunter gatherers to mass monocrop farming to small scale urban market gardens, all aligning with different eras of necessity, greed and hope. In what sort of ways do we want to interact with what we eat?

Perhaps it’s about time to put our hands back into the soil (metaphorically or in the literal sense), closing the distance between growing, knowing and eating.

What does food mean in relation to an idea of ‘health’? An aspect of the answer might be found in trying to grow something ourselves, in interacting with soil, with seedlings, with vegetables and fruits.

It might be time to plant some sort of garden.

The Joy of Gardening for Wellness

Robin Wall Kimmerer, an esteemed environmental biologist and author of "Braiding Sweetgrass," emphasises the profound bond between humans and the land. By gardening, you enter into a mutual relationship where the care you give the soil is returned in the form of nourishing food. This bond is vital for both emotional and physical well-being.

Scientific research consistently reinforces the health benefits of gardening. Engaging in this ancient practice can:

Even a small step like cultivating microgreens or potting herbs can initiate a healthier relationship with food. It's all about fostering connections, enhancing knowledge, and ultimately, improving overall health and wellness.

“We have gifts as human people that we can give back to the living world.” - Robin Wall Kimmerer

This wealth of research emphasises both the immediate and long-term effects that growing has on all four corners cornerstones of health, all four walls of Te Whare Tapa Whā.

Start small, depending on the kind of space you have access to and the time and energy that you have to give - tomatoes on the deck; a small bed of lettuces; a worm farm; a compost bin. Maybe your local community garden has allotments up for grabs? Or even needs someone to help eat all the peaches in the summertime. Every little thing has an impact, and it is all a step/leap/jump in the direction of knowing more about how to healthily interact with food. Building relationships, building knowledge, building health.

Our tips - the Aro Ha garden

Aro Ha’s team of gardeners help lay the foundation of what we do. They defy the harsh elements of Otago environment and weather to provide the retreat with over 300 different varieties of edible plants.

We are situated on the side of a tall mountain range and the climate is easily changeable. It’s a constant experiment using all sorts of methods to grow nutritionally dense produce throughout the year. We have three greenhouses on site, multiple different composting systems and our gardens are structured around a sustainable permaculture ethos.

During the 2020/2021 season our garden supplied 39% of the fresh produce utilised by our kitchen for guest and staff meals. This last season (2021/2022) they supplied 45%. The numbers keep rising - our plant-based menu being powered by nutrient-rich whole foods from our own environment.

“Gardening and growing food is good for the soul in so many ways. Keeping your hands in the soil brings you down to earth, and keeps you grounded to natural values."⁠ - Sue, one of our head gardeners tells us.

Let’s work to support the growth of food with our own hands. Support a re-grasping of one aspect of health, one aspect of wellness. Let’s grow as much food as we can, let’s encourage each other to grow, let’s buy local when possible, and let’s think about what happens to what we discard.

Growing Food for Wellness: Tips and Recommendations

    1. Start Small: Initiate with potted herbs or a tray of microgreens.
    2. Support Local: Opt for in-season local produce.
    3. Compost: Utilise various methods to recycle your food scraps. Bokashi Zing offers an innovative bench-top compost solution.
    4. Engage with the Community: Join initiatives like 'For The Love of Bees' and learn organic gardening or get organic produce through their CSA program.
    5. Waste Management: Consider worm bins like Hungry Bin for an effective composting solution, or connect with the Compost Collective's Share Waste initiative.
    6. Supplements: Sometimes, whole foods might not provide all nutrients. Companies like BePure offer quality supplements.
    7. Eco-friendly Shopping: Adopt sustainable practices using organic cotton shopping bags from Eco-Bags.
    8. Minimise Waste: Explore zero-waste approaches with The Rubbish Trip's regional resource guide.

Why have a relationship with growing food?

  • It’s good for your wellbeing and good for the planet.
  • Getting your hands in the soil and witnessing the processes of growth on a physical level is calming and can be deeply healing.  
  • It’s a great way to eat nutrient-dense food - whole foods are packed with goodness.
  • It supports a new kind of autonomy around food. Growing yourself or interacting with local growers allows you to know exactly how your food has been grown.
  • It supports waste management
  • It tastes good.
  • A garden is a learning opportunity. Take advantage of a chance to experiment, discover and develop your relationship with the plants.
  • It is an act of deep care and affection to the land.

Hands in the soil at home and in community, growing food and caring for land is a sure way to support a healthy heart, a wholesome body and a healthy mind.  

We hope some of these words can be of inspiration to you.

All the best,

The Aro Ha Team