6 Ways to Reduce Stress by Growing Your Own Food in PA

Sara Melissa Frost

Garden bed in Lititz, PAPhoto by Sara Melissa Frost

Lancaster County is the most productive non-irrigated farming county in the U.S. Take advantage of it and plant those seeds!

The environmental benefits of growing your own food are priceless. You know exactly where your food came from and how it was made. It is completely up to you what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides come in contact with your food, and you get to reduce the number of harmful chemicals polluting our environment and waterways.

Lancaster County, PA, is well known for its agriculture and farmland. But you don't have to be a farmer in order to grow your own food here. The soil and climate in Lancaster makes it doable for people without a bakground in agriculture to create their own vegetable garden right in their own backyard.

Personal benefits

The benefits of gardening are not only environmental. There are also some personal benefits that are not as obvious as the environmental ones. According to The American Institute of Stress, growing a garden can reduce your stress levels and greatly enhance your physical and mental health. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment.

The institute mentions several points where gardening can have a positive impact on your body and mind, and here's six of them:

  1. Mindfulness: Mindfulness prevents our racing brains from overwhelming us and blocking us from enjoying the small moments of calm that all of us could use and deserve. Growing your own food can be a calm and somewhat simple activity. The idea behind mindfulness is simplicity itself — just be. Oxford Languages defines mindfulness as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. And what better spot is there for that than a sunny garden?
  2. Less Cortisol: Cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone” is one of the steroid hormones and is made in the adrenal glands. Most cells within the body have cortisol receptors. When spending time outdoors in a garden, we regulate our emotions more efficiently than if we were cooped up indoors, and it can have a positive effect on your cortisol levels. That being said, if you suspect that your cortisol levels are not where they should be, the first step to getting help is to talk to your doctor.
  3. Creativity: Regardless of skill, creativity can be a stress reliever. It only takes a few minutes for your body to significantly reduce your levels of cortisol by embracing your inner artist. If you have a garden, you can do the landscaping and tailor it to your style, and what you find beautiful. It can be an opportunity to shape something that belongs to you, and watching something you started come to life.
  4. Vitamin D: Being in the sun, exposed to Vitamin D, is a known relief for stress, anxiety, and depression. Your body produces vitamin D naturally when it’s directly exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D has several important functions. Perhaps the most vital are regulating the absorption of calcium and phosphorus, and facilitating normal immune system function. Getting a sufficient amount of vitamin D is important for normal growth and development of bones and teeth, as well as improved resistance against certain diseases.
  5. Exercise: Every minute spent in the garden, even something as simple as watering the plants, burns calories. The more time you spend maintaining your green space, the more exercise you’ll be providing your body with. When you don’t have the motivation to go for a run, head out to your garden and get your exercise done there. Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins.
  6. Bacteria Exposure: We’re taught to fear and avoid bacteria. However, getting your hands dirty can actually be a good thing. Mycobacterium vaccae is a nonpathogenic species of the Mycobacteriaceae family of bacteria that lives naturally in soil. The more soil that gets under your fingernails, the more you are exposing yourself to this beneficial bacteria, and the more bacteria you expose yourself to, the harder it will be for them to invade your body and leave you feeling unwell.

Start small

When you start with an empty garden bed it’s hard to imagine how big the vegetables are going to be. At least if it is your first time growing vegetables. They tend to get larger than you'd excpect. Start small, with your favorite vegetables.

Keep in mind that there are Full Sun Vegetables and partial shade vegetables. Full sun vegetables need a minimum of six hours, preferably eight hours of sunlight per day. For at least six hours, the sun should be directly shining onto the plants nearly every day of the season. No trees or buildings should be blocking sunlight from them.

With some patience and regular maintenance, you'll have full grown vegetables before you know it.

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Journalist and writer. I cover local stories + food, mostly from PA.

Lititz, PA

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