I want to begin this article, which is about getting exercise in the garden, by stressing that the idea of getting fit in the garden needs to take a back seat to the ideas fashioned and championed by Ron Finley, of the Ron Finley Project, who says, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.” His work specifically addresses those whose socioeconomic environment is a barrier to basic nutrition, fresh, nourishing food, as well as spaces in which to and knowledge of how to produce it autonomously. I encourage everyone to watch the film Can You Dig This featuring the Ron Finley Project to get an idea of the impact that growing things can have on a community, to donate to the project, and to follow the RFP on social media.
With Ron Finley’s approach and ideas in the front seat, I, sitting in the back seat, believe it’s essential to point out that the dietary nutrients every body requires can be stacked, permaculture-style, with the movement nutrients we also all require, if we just “grow some $#it” (as suggested by RF himself). Gardening is a solution to a lack of nutrition and a lack of movement. Two birds, one stone, dig?
These days, many think of movement as a sort of penance for having eaten, a way to get rid of the food we’ve ingested. But what if we flip that notion on its head and see how movement is the way to get food? Movement (stuff we require) is what MAKES the food we need. (Right now a lot of that movement is outsourced to farmers, laborers, and machinery, and we can reclaim some of that movement.) We can develop a new relationship that frames both food and movement as positives.
Garden moves (those movements found in community gardens, container and patio gardens, kids’ gardens, indoor gardens, and backyard gardens) are squats, bends, pulls, lifts, carries, and smaller moves like picking, shelling, and separating, that, in the end, are converted into food. (P.S. If you’re more of a flower gardener, then you’re feeding pollinators, who in turn help feed all of us—so it’s the same deal!)
The garden is an excellent personal trainer: If you’re giving the garden everything it needs, you can’t help but cross-train. I wrote an entire article on this idea, “Cross-Training in the Garden: A Lesson From Alignment to Zucchini,” explaining all the ways you can mix up the way you garden for more movement. Read for a deep dive!
Do you wish you could grow something but feel your body is too stiff or sore to get started? I understand completely, and this is really why I do what I do. I like to show how we can use movement to target areas that don’t move well. It’s a bonus when you can relate opening up a new part of your body to opening up an experience you’d like to have, like how stretching your calf muscles can get you bending your knees in the garden with ease. I also have many friends and farmers who feel the aches and pains after a day in the garden. Even after all that movement, they still ask me for specific corrective moves to ease a spot here or there. So, allow me to show you a couple of moves from my Whole Body Biomechanics courses.
The first, a snippet from Nutritious Movement Improvement, will help you prep your hands for grasping, digging, and even being able to crawl through your garden with more ease if stiff wrists are getting in the way.
The second is another snippet from Nutritious Movement Improvement. It’s a modified and bolstered spinal twist, great to do after a day of yard work (or after a day at a desk—it’s really great no matter how you spend your time).
The third is not from a course; it’s just my favorite way to quickly make over your bending and lifting form, specifically how to instantly take a load off your knees and lower back and give it more to your hips. When in doubt, shift your hips out! Watch the video here.
So, we’ve stacked food with movement, but we can add a third nutrient that I call “Vitamin Community.” As I say in Step 10 in the article linked above, adding friends to your growing time meets another human need for what I’ll quickly sum up as togetherness. (Read Movement Matters for more on Vitamin Community.) Join others already growing or gleaning and stack your social and/or volunteering time with your garden moves. Invite others to come work with you, or ask someone else if you can help. We have local farmers here who throw weeding parties, where they provide lunch and a green space for the kids to play in their group while the grownups catch up, talk about local issues, and just hang out, getting our nature time—all while weeding (did I mention there’s always weeding?). This is different than spreading the weeding moves over a body, as using different positions and tools will do; this way of sharing the weeding work spreads the weeding moves over a greater number of the bodies that will benefit from their harvest.
That’s like six birds with one stone, which, yes, is a good shot but also sort of gruesome. I’ll stick to the idea of #movementpermaculture, thanks.
Not every day can be group gardening day, so if you’re worried about being lonely out there, take me with you! Play the Move Your DNA podcast episode 114: “Taking Action in the Garden” while you’re weeding. Because there is going to be weeding, friends. Just saying.