New Mexicans on ‘Growing a Better Self Through Sustainable Practices at Home’

This video below features footage and interviews of New Mexicans and their at-home food related sustainable practices. The focus of this piece is small scale gardening and other sustainable practices related to food production in the home. A well-planned garden can provide nutritious, high-quality, fresh vegetables for the whole family. A 50-ft by 100-ft garden will provide enough growing area for an average family. Though a well-maintained vegetable garden can be a lot of work, the outdoor exercise will mean better health for all involved. Beyond the physical benefit of eating healthier foods and getting exercise, there is a powerful emotional component to gardening as well.

In a way I hope to address the question- why keep chickens or grow your own food when in a technological age all of these things can be acquired fairly easily, without the work and attention keeping a garden or animals requires?

Gardening, composting, and keeping animals teaches one responsibility, nurturing, and patience. These skills are beneficial for children, as well as adults, to learn and practice. Chanel Montoya, an Albuquerque resident since 1995 said in an interview, “my kids love the chickens: they love collecting the eggs and interacting with [the chickens]. I have boys and they can be surprisingly gentle when gathering eggs and such… It is important for them to know where the food comes from.” Children and adults alike observe how animals live; how weather affects plants; how seeds sprout; how plants grow; how to cope with plant problems; how soil, water and sunshine interact; how butterflies and other insects play a role; how the awaited harvest also foreshadows death.

Through nurturing and witnessing the life of plants and chickens one naturally is more connected with nature. “When you sit at a desk all day, there’s something about literally putting your hands in the dirt, digging and actually creating something that’s really beautiful. There’s something about just being out there that feels kind of elemental,” says Joan Wilson – who has 5 4’x4’ raised garden beds on her property.  Many gardeners view their hobby as the perfect antidote to the modern world, a way of reclaiming some of the intangible things we’ve lost in our busy, dirt-free lives. From a more scientific example of this is a term “Nature deficit disorder” coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. When human beings, especially children, spend less time outdoors it results in a wide range of behavioral problems. Gardening and keeping animals are a way to mitigate the disconnect from nature in a world that seems overrun by the 9-5 consumer lifestyle.

A third major benefit of gardening and keeping animals is that it can be relaxing. When one is outside one gets exposure to Vitamin D, which helps the body function smoothly. Exposure to natural light can also assist one to normalize one’s sleep schedule. A study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that a natural environment allowed people to leave the stressors of their everyday lives behind and instead focus their minds on something more pure. By centering your mind, you can relax your body. Fresh air can improve blood pressure. When I mentioned this to Joan she replied, “I have always loved gardening, but as I get older it has become even more important… I feel more alive when I am out in the yard.”

A recent Dutch study suggests that spending time in nature and performing repetitive tasks such as gardening can fight stress better than other leisure activities. In the study, one group of people was asked to read indoors after completing a stressful task while the other group was instructed to garden for 30 minutes. The gardeners not only reported being in a better mood than the readers, but also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The physical movement these activities require increases oxygen levels in the body as well as releases endorphins.

Recently retired Dean Clemins has 10 goats on his North Valley property, and he makes money from selling the kids. He responded to the information about gardening being relaxing by saying, “I am not gonna lie, goats can be stressful sometimes, they can be mischievous things. But dealing with an unruly goat is nothing compared to when I was working full time. These guys are my family. There is something special about seeing a baby being brought into the world. They have personalities, you know.”

The people featured in this video share their examples of why they enjoy these sustainable practices at home, and whether the benefits be physical or emotional, it is undeniably rewarding. There are immense benefits to committing oneself to a garden or animals at home.

Video: A brief collection showing food-related sustainability practices from New Mexican’s own yards. I visit a raised bed garden, chickens, a patio garden, and even meet some goats.

-Posted by Jacqueline

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