At this exact time five years ago, I was fresh off a promotion, staring outside my downtown office window, wearing a crisp suit, wondering why I was still miserable. I had it all, right? I was a 25-year-old woman with a full-time job and a great benefits package. I had a supportive fiancé and a strong group of girlfriends. Heck, we’d even just rescued an adorable black lab puppy! According to society, my life was perfect! Yet, there was a lingering feeling in my gut that wouldn’t go away. A feeling that kept whispering in my ear, “This sucks! You wake up every morning and dread going to work. Your upper management is the epitome of misogyny*. There IS something better out there!” (*Side note: My old employer was so old school. It wasn’t until 2014 that our Employee Handbook was updated to say that women didn’t have to wear pantyhose! Ready to roll your eyes even harder? I had lost a promotion to a male colleague. My boss’s boss met with me to deliver the news and told me not to worry because “Liz, you presented yourself like a true beauty queen. It was like having a real Indy 500 Princess in our presence!!” Like seriously, WTH.)
With the help of my supportive fiancé (and let’s be real, he was also getting pretty tired of hearing me complain every single night), I decided it was time to take my life into my own hands. I quit my “big girl” job and became an unpaid, urban farm apprentice, where I learned not only how to grow my own food, but how to nurture and grow my own self. (Shout out to Growing Places Indy co-founder Laura Henderson, one of the most badass women I know, for creating this organization and holding space for such transformative work.) I spent that summer biking around Indianapolis, cultivating urban farm plots, learning about the local nonprofit scene, practicing yoga and getting to know parts of myself that I had previously tried so hard to ignore. It was through this experience, that I realized my happiness is created through connection to food and the earth.
I went into the apprenticeship thinking I wanted to become a farmer. I love being outside and I love helping people. What better way to do both, than to grow food. After that summer, I realized “farmer” was not my dream career, but that growing food on a smaller scale, for myself and my family, was definitely a key to my happiness. I learned so much during my apprenticeship and have spent the past five summers doing my own trial and error. Here are some things I’d like to share with you:
- LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. The first summer in our Fall Creek Place home, I surveyed our backyard to find the sunniest section, built an 8×4 raised bed, filled it with compost, and planted away. What I didn’t consider was that when I was looking for sunny spots in the spring, the trees weren’t full of leaves yet. Once summer was in full stride, the trees were fuller, which had a huge impact on the amount of sun my raised bed received. The next summer, I moved the entire bed across our entire lawn, which reeeeeeally sucked.
- TIMING. I’ve used this Nature’s Crossroads planting calendar as my guide every single year without fail.
- KEEP IT SIMPLE. Don’t get too carried away when choosing your plants. If you don’t like eggplant, don’t plant eggplant, even if they’re the prettiest, richest purple color. There’s no use in wasting the space in your garden if you aren’t in love with the veggie. Also, consider the size of your family. If you want to have kale for salads and smoothies for multiple people, you’ll need more than one kale plant.
- SHOP LOCAL. Please, don’t buy your veggie plans from big box stores. These retailers (cough cough Lowes) sell plants that have been doused in chemicals. Once in bloom, bees and other pollinators will visit these plants, pick up their harmful pesticides. Instead, venture out to your local farmers market for plants. They’ll be better for the environment and you’re supporting small, local farms and businesses. It’s a win-win. #SaveTheBees
- INVOLVE YOUR LITTLES. I’m a grown-a** woman and I still squeal with joy when the first bean sprout pops up from the dirt. Getting kids involved is also a great way to get picky eaters to try new foods. I used to lead an after-school club at a community center where we’d plant veggies then harvest them and make yummy recipes. If a kid spends weeks planting and caring for a plant, they WILL give it a try and eat it. Every. Single. Time.
- GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY. Scientists and researchers suggest digging in the dirt is good for your mental health. Some even state that the microbiome in soil can double as an anti-depressant.
I hope I’ve inspired you to 1) quit your job if you’re unhappy!!! (jk jk, but in all seriousness, it’s never too late for a fresh start, I promise.) and 2) grow some of your own food this summer. Even if it’s just a window box filled with herbs, the benefits of growing your own food are undeniable. You Grow, Girl!! (Alright sorry, I couldn’t help myself with that corny AF ending.)