Healthy Garden, Healthy You!

From Chapter 27 of "Healthy Garden Healthy You" by Milo Shammas

The three pillars of health have been known for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks described them best: proper rest, proper exercise and proper nutrition. We focus here on the nutritional component of health. However, all three components are bound together. Proper nutrition leads to good digestion, circulation and immunity, all benefiting the body’s total system. Getting the correct balance of rest, exercise and nutrition is imperative to good health.

Nothing can replace a good night’s sleep. Dr. Steve Pratt, author of the best selling books, SuperFoods Rx and SuperHealth, says we need at least seven hours of sleep to maintain good health. Nutrition alone cannot replace adequate sleep. We also need to exercise moderately to maintain and maximize our health. Gardening is a great way to work up a sweat. Look at pulling weeds not as a chore but as a great form of exercise.

Start every day by looking deeply in the mirror. I do not mean a superficial glance when you apply your makeup or shave your face. I mean look deeply inside yourself. Look into your eyes and ask yourself what you see. Do you dwell on any part of your body? What part? Why do you dwell on that part? Could you make a change to correct it if you are unhappy with it?

Take a deep look inside the person staring back at you. You owe it to yourself and those whose lives you touch to do everything in your power to be as healthy as you can be. Every day is a good day, because it gives you another opportunity to be who you want to be and do what you want to do. If you want to make a healthy change for the better, start in your backyard with a good mental attitude and plan to have a great day.

I hope by now I have convinced you that growing a healthy garden can be one of the most rewarding and healthy experiences of your life. The better you understand the benefits of healthy gardening, the more you will adopt it in your life. Make your garden a large part of your life. When people get involved in growing their gardens, their quality of life improves significantly. A healthy garden offers a healthy place for you and your family, a place you can regularly depend on for healthy foods. If you understand the fundamentals of healthy gardening, you know how they relate to your health. Gardeners are at the forefront of an organic revolution. Growing your own food is one thing you can control to enrich your life and your health.

When you walk through the supermarket, it seems as if every other product claims to promote your health. Yet consider the health problems that plague modern, industrial society: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis, obesity, degenerative diseases and premature aging. Research shows these are primarily lifestyle and environmental diseases. That means they come from or are made worse by toxic exposures via our air, water and food (including cigarette smoke, air pollution and chemically tainted food), poor nutrition (too much of what is bad for us and/or not enough of what nourishes us), and lack of vigorous exercise.

A Little Work, a Lot of Health
I love to work. I work at everything I do, from building my relationships with my family to building my business every day. But my time in the garden is a little different. Gardening is the kind of work that transcends the purely physical world and becomes a spiritual experience. The simple act of working with the soil and nurturing plants goes back thousands of years. It is a very special feeling to know my ancestors did the same thing ten thousand years ago. The act of gardening connects me with them. In a sense, my garden links me to all past and future humanity.

Look at your backyard as you might look at a place of worship, a healing ground or a place of nurturing. After all, churches, houses of worship and meditation halls exist to nurture souls and lift our spirits to connect us to a higher power. What else but a higher power of some kind makes all of biology happen? The garden is like a “natural chapel” in the ways it can heal and connect you to the past and future. Many spiritual men were known to love working in their gardens. And many of the best gardeners I have known or read about were deeply spiritual in some way.

Invest some time every day in your garden. Even if you do not touch anything, just walk in it. Plan your next crop, or think about how your garden can improve your future. This alone is healing. Few things are as exciting as growing a healthy garden or being a farmer. I am blessed, because I own many acres of land and can raise every kind of plant that will grow in Northern California. Nevertheless, I also was a city boy for much of my life. Even when I lived on an average 60-foot by 150-foot city house lot, my parents and I always managed to grow an organic garden and several fruit trees. I have always grown herbs in containers. I landscaped with trees that produced edible fruits. I always designated a sizable part of my backyard to my vegetable garden. My philosophy includes believing that if I use water to maintain a garden or any plants, I might as well grow things that I can also eat to provide nutrition for me, my family, my pets and my friends. If I turn a sprinkler on and pay a water bill, l feel I should grow as much edible food as I can. Growing my own food is the essence of healthy living.

In this age of technology and modern medicine, we have become disconnected from our agrarian roots. Television commercials show images of cows in beautiful green pastures and fields of fruits and vegetables to sell food products. We fall for the imagery and buy. The image manipulation works, because we love the images. Advertisers use this idealized image of farming and rural life to sell us multivitamins, anti-aging skin creams and antioxidant drinks, among other things. What we do not see, perhaps do not want to see, is the factory-farming reality of where and how our food is processed and packaged. Those real images are disturbing. Instead, we embrace the pictures of bucolic open fields, get good feelings from them and link them with being healthy.

Here is the paradox: The more we progress in modern times and see the limits and costs of “progress,” the more we reach for the ways we did things in the past. In the last hundred years, as we have moved forward technologically or industrially, we have striven to return to what we did hundreds of years ago. What a paradox: The easier life becomes, the more difficult it is to live.

As we move forward and advance the quality of our life, we expose ourselves to more potential ailments. When we had to run and hunt for our food or work in the fields to gather the fruits and vegetables we ate, we were also leaner. Obesity was less pervasive. Certainly, some people throughout time have been genetically disposed to retain weight, but for the most part humankind was leaner in the past when physical work was more commonplace. Today, stress management is a minor industry and a major need for so many people. Arguably, no one had the time to manage stress when most industry took place in the fields working to grow as a community towards the shared goal of survival. A modern backyard garden can be a gateway to the beneficial aspects of life in the past.

The Future of the Healthy Garden
As I continue to grow and look at those around me, I wonder what I will look like 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years from now. Will I be able to walk on my own? Will I even be here? If I am here, what will be the quality of my life? In this book, I hope to teach you how to be as healthy as you can. I live an organic lifestyle that I want to share with you. I believe from the very depths of my heart if you grow the majority of your own food, you will live a better quality life. You will be freer of ailments, carry less body fat, have glowing skin and experience a more youthful, healthier life. We all want to look good and age beautifully. Your own healthy garden is the most accessible tool to achieve all these desires.

Since I carefully observe every detail around me, my family and friends accuse me of wanting too much control over my environment. Quite the opposite. Others control everything around me, especially companies motivated solely by profits. This forces me to pay close attention to every detail in my daily choices. My genetic makeup prompts me to observe and be mindful. I love to read labels before I consume anything. I am not so much counting calories as looking at the ingredient list. When I go out to eat, I study the menu and customize every dish I order. I skip the mayonnaise and choose multigrain bread, for example. Paying attention to such details every day is part of who I am. I want to live a long and healthy life, and I hope you do, too. I suspect we share that goal, or you would not have read this far.

Knowledge and Vitality
Most people want energy and vitality. In our young adult years, we feel so full of energy we believe we are invincible. Most young people cannot even imagine not being here. If you are older, you know you cannot turn back the clock to when you were 20, but you can age gracefully and live a good, energetic life. I believe the garden is the tool to help us achieve that lifestyle. Besides helping your vitality, gardening helps you relieve stress through daily exercise and connecting to the natural world, even if your only activity is to pull a few weeds or transplant with a 4-inch container.

Beyond your health, the best part of gardening is the knowledge you accumulate with every season. The better you are as a gardener, the higher and greater becomes your understanding of how all life is connected. The biodiversity in your backyard is a natural laboratory with more specimens in it than any university life sciences department. If you can learn about all the microbes in the soil, the insects that crawl and fly around, the plants you grow, and the nutrition they hold to help you become healthy, it is worth every ounce of energy you exert in your garden. The garden gives you a reason to continue learning and to keep exercising. It also gives you something to anticipate with excitement. If you are already a gardener, you know how I can say, “Harvest time is party time.”

A health insurance policy will not truly help you if you become sick. The best policy might spare you the financial burden, but becoming ill is the worst thing that can happen to you regardless of your financial means. You cannot put a price tag on your health. My father, Lou, has always told me, “If you have your health, that’s all that matters, because without your health you cannot enjoy life.” I always think of my father’s words with every choice I make. If you have ever been gravely ill yourself or seen someone you care for get sick, you probably thought to yourself, “I would pay anything so my loved one or I could feel better.” Money is not what we value most when we want to restore our health.

Here is how to pay your next health insurance premium in sweat. Dig that hole in your backyard. Plant and cultivate the soil. Start your healthy garden full of nutrient-rich vegetables, herbs and fruits. Do not wait until you have to call on your health insurance policy to get a preventable ailment treated. The quote at the top of this chapter says, “Let food be thy medicine.” Your daily choices can keep the doctor away. We all need to have a good medical doctor that we see regularly. However, we should not be routinely going to the doctor when we are already sick. Regularly getting a clean bill of health every time you visit a physician is the ultimate goal. Your garden will help make your visits to the doctor a repeated validation of your healthy lifestyle.

Milo Lou Shammas
Founder and Formulator

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