Roots and Shoots: On a Mission in the Garden

By Pamela Doan

I read a couple of features recently about creating a personal mission statement. It’s like an organizational mission statement, something that reflects your ethics, values and goals, and guides your daily life. It had questions like, “What would you like to be remembered for?” It got me thinking about what a mission statement would say if we thought of ourselves as environmental stewards for our personal landscapes in our yards.

The beginning of a new year as a time to reflect on changing our relationship to our landscapes (photo by P. Doan)

The beginning of a new year as a time to reflect on changing our relationship to our landscapes (photo by P. Doan)

Consider that there are these green spaces around the buildings where we live and work. It might just be a patch of lawn or it could encompass acres of woods. Whatever it is, if you were the steward for this space, responsible for its vitality and conservation, what mission statement would clarify your relationship to it? Instead of looking upon that lawn as a chore with borders that end at your property line, think of it as part of a larger ecosystem that could sustain many varieties of flora and fauna. (Not just deer, inadvertently.)

Here are some things to consider when making a mission statement for your patch of ground, no matter how big or small.

What do I want to leave behind for the next generation?

After becoming a parent last year, this question has become much more real to me. I have a little human being in my life that will inherit the consequences of my actions. I look at my baby daughter and wonder what the world will be like in 50 years, fearing that the worst predictions will come to pass and her life will be spent coping with one natural disaster after another from the devastation of global warming. As small as it seems, cutting back on gas-powered lawn tools, composting, planting trees — these actions matter and reduce our carbon footprint.

How do my choices in the landscape sync with the way I live?

Do you buy organic vegetables but not think twice about having a lawn service dump chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on your grass? Do you drink filtered water but spray the weed killer Roundup around your house? Bug sprays, weed killers and inorganic fertilizers are pollutants, pure and simple. They’re suspects in the mass die-offs of bees in colony collapse disorder and cause multiple problems in our waterways.

When you look at the reasons why we typically seek out purity in water we drink and chemical-free food, it’s hard to justify adding those chemicals to the environment just because you don’t like dandelions or want a certain shade of green in the lawn. There are other options that do less harm.

How can I achieve other goals in my life through tending the landscape?

Healthy mind, healthy body and healthy landscape: Gardening is good for the soul, great exercise and an outlet for creativity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists light gardening and yard work as burning more than 300 calories per hour. Weeding, raking, chopping wood, clearing brush and trimming are all good tasks that will keep you out of the gym and healthy. Needless to say, the less you use power tools, the better the benefit.

Thinking about what kind of world we leave for our children (photo by P. Doan)

Thinking about what kind of world we leave for our children (photo by P. Doan)

For the mind, gardening reduces stress and gets us out of the attention fatigue of staring at computers and being constantly distracted by smartphones. Growing your own vegetables, even if it’s only four tomato plants in containers or your favorite herbs, is a way to have access to fresh, healthy food literally right on your doorstep. Gardening is a family activity, too. Get your kids outdoors to explore and develop a relationship with nature.

Finally, consider the financial impact of being an environmental steward. Taking control of your yard and not relying on service contractors is a big cost savings. The National Gardening Association, a nonprofit, estimates that investing $70 to set up a garden can yield $600 worth of produce. When you are reusing and recycling organic matter like leaves and compost that’s already on your property, those savings increase.

If you wouldn’t dream of throwing your glass bottles and other recyclable material into the trash, then why throw away a banana peel or apple core instead of composting it? The principle is the same and the effort can pay off in significant savings when it comes to having a ready source available to naturally add nutrients to plants and trees.

If you like this idea, share your personal mission statement with other readers. Post it on our Facebook page, in the comments or email it to [email protected]

One thought on “Roots and Shoots: On a Mission in the Garden

  1. We’ve enjoyed organic gardening at our home and instilled a love of growing your own in our granddaughter. She’s about to move away but top of her list of priorities is to start her own vegetable garden. We also raised chickens together so she knows what goes into caring for the chicks and later, the hens that lay the glorious eggs. It’s all been a wonderful exercise in time spent together, hard work and achievements and a bonus is all the fresh produce and eggs. She also learned about giving. Sharing our bounty at the food pantry. I think in future she will be part of the solution.