National and international events this year have been increasingly stressful. Unlike many people, I can’t unplug and ignore them. My job as a social scientist and educator means that I have to stay engaged, even when I find the world anxiety-producing.
The farm has been my anti-anxiety medication. I often arrive at the farm with muscle tension and a sense of stress, my mind mulling over all the issues of the world and my small place in it all. And then I pick up my pruners and harvest some squash or plant some kale and I feel better.
Gardening for food is a whole sensory experience that demands presence. It makes mindfulness easier. I don’t have to push away distracting thoughts if my mind is already engrossed in a farm task. Yet these tasks are repetitive and soothing, and so they become a form of moving meditation.
One of these days in the summer, in the height of plum production, I was having a difficult day. National news was disturbing and my own family was having some challenges as well. I went back to the orchard with my bucket to pick plums. The anxiety melted away as I reached up and stretched toward the sun, looking at the plums for the perfect color, touching their smooth taut skin to feel for ripeness. Beetles buzzed occasionally past, their hum momentarily taking over. Midmorning hunger was soothed by a bite into the perfect plum: sweet but tart, juicy, with crisp skin.
There is increasing research that suggests that soil microbes help our bodies stave off anxiety and depression. At least for more mild anxiety, the cure may lie literally in the earth. But in my experience at the farm, gardening is offering us more than just contact with soil. It’s a total sensory experience that gives us moments of being fully present and joyful. It reminds us, with just the right balance of ease and demand, to notice the earth and to be grateful for it.
The world’s stressful events, large and small, march onward. But so does the garden. I’ll keep looking for those perfect plums and in finding them, find inner peace.