6 Positive Impacts Gardening Has on the Environment

We all know gardening has a multitude of benefits for us as people—gardening allows us to save money at the grocery store and eat healthier foods, as well as provides us with a reason to get outside and connect with other people, both of which are good for physical and mental health.

But did you know that gardening, even on a small scale, is one of the best things you can do as an individual for the planet?

Sustainable gardening practices encourage climate resiliency on a micro level, and when enough individuals and communities come together, sustainable agriculture has the potential to fight and even reverse climate change.

We’ve talked about the benefits of regenerative agriculture before, but intentional gardening has a similar positive impact on our personal lives and on the environment as a whole.

Sustainable gardening can reduce food waste and plastic pollution related to food production, lessen greenhouse gas emissions associated with food transport, limit the number of chemicals released into the environment, reduce soil erosion and runoff, as well as purity groundwater.

Keep reading for a more detailed look into these positive implications of gardening.

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1. Reducing Food Waste

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an estimated 30-40% of food is wasted every year. This waste is twofold: not only is the food itself wasted, but the time, money, labor, and other resources that were put into producing excess crops are also wasted.

People who could use the extra food don’t get it, and then the waste goes to a landfill and rots, releasing a potent greenhouse gas—methane—into the atmosphere.

Although commercial agricultural operations and supply chains must inflate their numbers to anticipate demand, when you grow your own fruits and vegetables at home, you can grow exactly what you and your family need. Some years you may grow too much and other years you may wish that you had a little more, but gardening allows you to control how much you produce.

When you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you have better control over how much you harvest and are more likely to use it all. And if you do have a bigger harvest that you need, you can donate the excess to a food pantry or a family in need. As for food scraps and spoiled produce, you can give them to a local farmer for animal feed or compost the leftovers.

Composting, when done correctly, is an excellent way to reduce food waste. Food scraps (excluding meat and dairy), eggshells, coffee grounds and paper filters, leaves, weeds, grass clippings, and other plant matter are all compostable.

2. Reducing plastic pollution

Plastic waste is a major environmental issue, with single-use plastics being a significant contributor.

Surely, you’ve noticed how many vegetables are wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. Bunches of bananas, precut fruit, even peppers, and potatoes—almost everything seems to be shrinkwrapped for convenience.

When you grow your own food, you can avoid buying produce that is sold in plastic packaging, reducing your plastic footprint.

3. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Gardening itself is a low-carbon activity, but it can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When produce is shipped long distances, it requires a lot of energy and emits a significant amount of greenhouse gases.

Shopping at the grocery store involves more transportation and greenhouse gas emissions than you may realize. Not only do you have to drive to the supermarket to buy groceries, but someone had to transport those avocados and mangoes from Mexico to your local supermarket. Researchers call the distance that food travels to get to your plate ‘food miles,’ and a study from Michigan State University found that although locally-grown food only traveled 56 miles on average, conventionally-grown produce traveled just shy of 1,500 miles from farm to market.

The USDA reported that in 2020, agriculture accounted for 11.2% of estimated greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Agriculture had the smallest contribution of all the sectors represented, which included commercial, residential, transportation, and industry.

Even though agriculture was the smallest contributor out of these sectors, it still has a major impact on climate change. By growing your own food at home, you lessen the negative impact and create opportunities for positive impact. And the more people that make a change on an individual level, the more likely we as a whole will be able to move the needle on climate change.

4. Reducing the presence of harmful chemicals

Commercially grown produce is often sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, which can be harmful to human health and the environment. While there are federal and global regulations in place on some of the harshest chemicals, the only way to truly know what comes into contact with your food supply is to grow your own.

When you garden organically, you avoid using these harmful chemicals, reducing pollution and promoting a healthier ecosystem. Utilizing biological pest control and prioritizing focusing on soil health are far better long-term solutions to control weeds, pests, and diseases.

5. Sequestering carbon in the soil

You understand how photosynthesis works: plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and give off oxygen in a process that mimics respiration.

But that’s not all—deeply rooted perennial plants draw carbon dioxide from their leaves down into their roots, trapping carbon in the ground. This process of “sinking” carbon in the ground is called carbon sequestration, and on a large scale is an effective way to purify the air by removing carbon.

6. Reducing soil erosion and purifying surface runoff

Agriculture is one of the leading causes of soil degradation, as it contributes to erosion and runoff. Consider the Dust Bowl of 1930 as a prime example. When soil is exposed to the elements, it can easily be blown or washed away, which contributes to both land degradation and water pollution.

In your garden, you can reduce soil erosion by using techniques such as cover cropping, planting on contour to prevent water runoff, and adding organic matter to the soil to improve its ability to retain moisture.

Healthier soil is better able to withstand extreme weather extremes like droughts and flooding, lessening their severity.

Soil is also directly correlated with water quality—healthy soil removes pollutants and contaminants from surface water, replenishing the earth’s groundwater. Water conservation is yet another positive environmental impact that can come from gardening.

Many of us enjoy gardening for the things it does for us, like proving us with free food and a good farmer’s tan! But the benefits go beyond our own health and happiness—gardening is one of those small but realistic actions that we can take to protect and preserve our planet.

It might sound crazy that something as simple as gardening can actually help reduce food waste, plastic pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and harmful chemical use, but it’s true! Not only does gardening help alleviate some of the symptoms of climate change, but done with organic practices and intention, gardening promotes healthy soil, clean groundwater, and creates a thriving ecosystem overall.

So if you’re already gardening, keep up the good work! And if you haven’t started yet, there’s no time like the present.

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About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at http://sarahcolliecreative.com.

Sarah C.

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