Friday, May 09, 2008

Turning My Black Thumb Against Diabetes

Year 2 in my quest to use my organic garden as a tool for better health
Sean Kelley When my wife and I bought our farm eight years ago, it seemed out of place for us. Despite growing up in rural Alabama, I know more about Gianni Versace than John Deere. Patti owns horses, but having livestock (or 1,200-pound lawn ornaments) does not make you a farmer. Neither does owning a farm.

In fact, most of the growth on our farm in recent years is due more to neglect than intervention on our part. Nature is reclaiming our eight-acre plot.

If owning a farm is out of character, gardening is anathema. Not only do I associate digging in the earth with constant adolescent battles with my father (whose idea of a father-son activity was often limited to early morning turns with a spade and hoe), but I have inherited my mother's black thumb.

(She once killed an entire household of Christmas cacti by feeding them what she thought was plant food, but was—in fact—bleach; I swear I heard plants screaming.)

Against these natures, I tilled up soil on the property last year to plant an organic garden. I had two goals: Make the farm work for us for a change and get more fresh vegetables into our diet. It wasn't a complete disaster, but our harvest of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, and herbs was modest.

Now I'm back at it with renewed purpose. I'm still trying to stick to organic farming principles, but my primary goal is exercise. At the same time, that exercise will (hopefully) produce healthy fare for our table that's in line with my diabetic diet. The strategy has lots of benefits:

• A garden requires constant attention, meaning more exercises. Gardening can burn 300 calories an hour;
• Eating fruits and vegetables lowers diabetes risks and helps you lose weight
• A 2007 study by Saint Louis University found children eat more fruits and veggies when they're home grown—something we proved with our daughter (pictured with me above) last summer when she began to actually eat things we grew that she wouldn't eat from a store.

Monday night I put in 20 tomato bushes, a variety of peppers, leeks, basil, and eggplant. Trailing clumps of soil back into the house, I thought about all the energy I expended fighting the tiller, breaking up clay, and clomping around the property. I still hate digging in the dirt, but the benefits I can harvest for my health have potential that may turn my black thumb green.

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