We are in the golden age of health, wellness and nutrition. Now more than ever, people are conscience of their diets, the foods they consume and how they were grown (organic or with pesticides). I don’t know about you, but ya girl is heavy on the “health = wealth.” What better way to be in control of your health and diet than growing your own fresh, nutritious goodies that you know hasn’t been treated with any harmful chemicals?

Hey there, I’m Nyajai, affectionately known as the Garden Goddess on the south side of Chicago. May 2021 will make my one year anniversary of outdoor gardening. While I was clearly an amateur, I had no idea that there was a powerful green-thumb hiding inside me all-along, itching to be nurtured. Little old me, who’d planted her first seed ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, grew an overwhelmingly abundance of goodies my first go round.

To give you an idea, here are a few things I successfully grew: Cucumbers, a variety of heirloom tomatoes, collard greens, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage, egg plants, basil, tomatillos, aloe vera, peppers, kale, garlic and zucchini.

You see, I originally started because while I just loved the thought of growing my own food and truly appreciate clean, delicious food in general, my goal was to have a full plant based diet. I’m not there yet as I am a Pescatarian (majority of the time. I just had to try these steak tacos while I was in Mexico :)). I mostly eat veggies because seafood on a daily basis can get expensive af (as Fu#k). I became spoiled and absolutely adored going outside, walking downstairs to my garden with my little basket, listening to the birds chirping, opening the gate, and harvesting my food that was minutes away from being cooked and eaten. This made me feel so good about myself. It felt like retail therapy and regular therapy all in one. Especially in the mornings. There’s nothing like fresh veggies for breakfast.

Now of course, with gardening comes some fails. Epic ones. I’ve planted several seeds, and while they all may have sprouted and grew beautifully, well, let’s just say their looks were deceiving. Here a few things I grew and would more than likely rate myself one star on if served to me at a restaurant or if I bought at a grocery store: watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe. And to point out even more fails, some babies I planted but never got the enjoyment of eating because it either stopped growing, died right away, simply did not produce or the raccoons stole it (don’t even get me started on those damn raccoons).

Here are a few of the victims: Asparagus, beans, onions, ginger, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. The reasons as to why I didn’t see success with some of my babies, well, the list could go on and on. But what matters is that my success outweighed my failures and was literally enjoying the fruit of my labor in so many different scrumptious flavors.

You should garden too! Here are my top three reasons why.

Do it for the Gram, I mean your health 🙂 

How would you describe your diet? Does it include a lot of fruits and veggies? Do you season your food with herbs and spices? (This is a no brainer for Black people. We don’t play that.) Do you care about where your food comes from (local and organic or mass produced with chemicals)? If you’ve answered yes to ANY of these questions, then you should garden.

But let’s be real. We all know that gardening comes with labor. Sometimes, intensive outdoor labor. Which makes for a great daily work out! And Baaaaaby, I don’t care how hard he sweats when working out at the gym or playing ball, there is absolutely nothing sexier than him sweating in the garden while nurturing the food that he will soon feed you! Lmao! In all seriousness, from being less stressed to having a snatched waistline, studies have identified many reasons why gardening is great for your health mentally and physically. This cool study looks at how many of the world’s centenarians share one common hobby, and guess what it is? Gardening. 🙂

Nonetheless, while I can definitely attest to burning calories when I’m in my garden, what matters most is the peace I find while I’m there. When I’m in my garden, I really feel like a Zen Goddess, in my own little world, just pure bliss. To say that gardening is therapeutic would be an understatement. I’m usually in the best mood, feeling like I’m living my best life when I’m in my garden. Until I see a cicada. Lay the foundation for a healthy you. Start a garden. The future you will be thankful.

Do it for your community 

If you’re anything like many of us who grew up on the south side of Chicago, you’ve experienced being hungry without a clue as to where your next meal was coming from or most importantly, when. Poverty is real. Food desserts and food insecurity plague communities all across the nation; especially Black communities. Imagine all the mouths we could feed if we all had a garden. Even if we only grew enough to feed our own family, that still puts a dent in the number of people who experience hunger.

The truth of the matter is, healthy, organic food is not equally accessible. Not only because of the lack of grocery stores but also because people simply cannot afford to feed their families this way. For example, if you have $1, would you buy an organic pepper or would you buy something more filling like ramen noodles or McDonald’s even. I, myself, am shocked at the outrageous prices of organic produce when I visit grocery stores.

Imagine if everyone, especially those in need, could just harvest food from public areas in their neighborhoods. Or if they could just pick from the plethora of welcoming gardens across the city. We’d all be combatting poverty together.

Do it for Mother Nature 

Connect with nature, promote sustainable agriculture and reduce your carbon footprint by gardening. Rather you believe in climate change or not, gardening is one way to take care of the Earth because it’s eco-friendly and plants are not only good for us but also are a critical resource for the air. As we learned in 3rd grade, plants take care of us by releasing oxygen into the atmosphere and absorbing carbon dioxide. On the flip side, according to the Climate Action Business Association, nearly 10% of personal carbon footprint for the average American comes from food. Yep. And think about all the traveling the food has to do to get to your grocery store. You can have a positive impact on the environment by growing an abundance of goodies in your yard. If you want to take things a step further, compost. Here a few tips to help you have an eco-friendly garden.

Nonetheless, COVID-19 taught me the importance of making fewer trips to the grocery store, and not trusting every food item. Imagine if you didn’t have to go to the grocery store every time you needed herbs, spices, veggies, or fruit. We know that not everyone who grows food takes proper care of it. But you, on the other hand, will take care of the babies you grow in your garden.

Quick Bonus 

We know some hobbies can hurt our pockets. Gardening, on the other hand, can make your pockets thank you. Save yourself a coin or two by gardening.

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