I've always had the privilege of growing up in a house with a big yard. While I’d be tearing up the grass in my Barbie car, my dad would be breaking a sweat in our garden. Throughout my childhood, my dad would continue to foster my interest in his gardening. However, I never had a true interest in what he was saying. Neither of us could have guessed what would occur a decade later.

During my free time this past school year, I gained a strong passion for learning about a plant based diet. Once I started learning about the numerous health benefits of eating nutrient dense fruits and vegetables, I started to envision myself tending to my own garden, harvesting ripe crops and cooking fresh vegan meals. This summer I took the initiative to take responsibility for my family's garden. What I thought would be a simple task turned out to be an emotional roller coaster. 

Starting from Scratch

Seedling, plant, gardening and grow HD photo by Markus Spiske (@markusspiske) on Unsplash

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Planting baby plants and seeds in the ground is hard but quite exciting. I channeled my inner child and would daydream about the abundance of vegetables I thought I'd one day wake up to. However, as the weeks passed and little growth occurred, I slowly became disappointed. I failed to take into consideration all the essential factors that go into gardening.

I never considered the location of the garden in relation to the sun, the "hormones" the surrounding trees and plants release in the soil, and extra nutrients that were needed. I should have created a gardening plan from the start, since it's a much more dynamic process than I had thought. Gardening is like a puzzle, and you must consider all the pieces before putting it together and reaping the benefits.

Baby Blooms

Dominique Gambino

The day my first tomatoes grew was a very proud day for me. It was similar to what I imagined my mom felt when she sent me to my first day of school. My babies were growing up! They were about the size of marbles and were just starting to show a hint of orange. Although it took weeks, and sometimes even months for my plants to bloom, I learned that patience is key. If you start to pick a tomato before it's big, colorful, and juicy, it won't taste nearly as good as if you had waited. 

Sharing is Caring

Tomato Garden photo by Elaine Casap (@ecasap) on Unsplash

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Ever heard of the 30-30-30 rule? This means that 30% of your harvest is for you, 30% is for your neighbor, and 30% goes to the bugs. Remember the first baby tomato I just described? I was never lucky enough to take a bite and enjoy the first fruits of my labor. Instead, the insects had a feast. This rule sadly appeared to be true. The more vegetables I collected, the more I lost to the animals and bugs. However, the vast amount I harvested led me to want to give more to my friends and family. The gratitude and thankfulness my loved ones expressed in return for my hard labor was extremely rewarding. I loved showing off the different crops I managed to grow.

Creative Cooking 

Dominique Gambino

Obviously not everyone is going to be a fan of eating raw vegetables (even plant-based vegans like myself). Rather than forcing myself to eat a pepper like you would an apple, I had to become innovative with my cooking. I learned how to combined the sweetness of tomatoes with herbs like parsley or basil to create a more complete dish. 

The intense labor and emotional drainage I experienced throughout my gardening experience led me to gain a greater appreciation for food. Instead of mindlessly eating food from the supermarket, I now consider the process that occurred in order for the food to reach me. I try my best to waste as little food as possible by reusing leftovers in different ways and by giving unwanted produce to friends and family.

Next time you find yourself in the produce aisle of the grocery store, don't be afraid to pick up an apple that has a few bruises or a carrot that isn't exactly straight. Through my experience with gardening last summer, I was not only able to cultivate delicious produce but also useful character traits such as patience, dedication, and a greater appreciation for the foods that I love to consume!