How self-sustainable is your lifestyle? Do you sew? Grow food? Can you make simple mechanical repairs or attend to minor health concerns? There’s a growing trend these days to return to the land and a simpler life, connecting to nature with homesteading. And whether or not you live in the country or in the city, there are elements of returning to nature and homesteading that anyone can incorporate in their daily lives.
This is the first edition of Take Them Outside’s Connecting with Nature Series where guest writers share their nature experiences, thoughts, and advice. Monica Mansfield is our first guest writer. It is easy to see Monica’s admiration for the natural world as she shares the challenges of growing up and becoming her own person. She found a path in nature and it led her to live a more sustainable and conscious life.
I hope you appreciate Monica’s story of gardening and wellbeing as much as I do.
Why I Decided to Get Back to the Land and Start Homesteading
By Monica Mansfield
I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and was lucky enough to be a part of the last generation of kids that lived without technology interwoven into every aspect of our daily lives. I used to spend my entire day playing outside and only went home for dinner when the streetlights turned on. If my parents came looking for me, they probably found me up in a tree and covered in dirt.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped spending so much time outdoors. It was about the mid-90’s, the same time that the internet came to life and I started driving. Instead of playing outside and riding my bike everywhere, I started spending my time at the mall or chatting with my friends on AOL Instant Messenger. Yeah, I just dated myself.
For many reasons, from hormones to family issues, I wasn’t a very happy teenager. Depression and anxiety became a regular part of my life and followed me well into my twenties. Partying and shopping were my two favorite ways to self-medicate, but they usually caused more problems than they solved.
When I was 27, I started watching a couple of YouTube channels that inspired me to spend time outside every single day. I took up the challenge and my life transformed. I started by going on regular walks and hikes with my dogs. I also made my first attempts at growing vegetables and flowers.
There seemed to be a new and awe-inspiring discovery every single day. I noticed buds on the trees in spring and patiently examined them every day until they bloomed. I learned that certain mosses and lichens only grew where the air was fresh and clean, and so I took deeper breaths on walks where they grew. I walked barefoot in the grass and felt the hum of the earth. How had I not done these things since I was a kid?
I found that the best place to pray and reflect was in the forest and the garden. My lifelong depression started to improve. My body, mind, and spirit all became stronger and healthier.
Years later, I learned there is actually a specific strain of bacteria in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, that creates serotonin in our bodies. Science now proves that getting dirty outside actually makes us happy. I started to notice that if I spent too many days indoors that I would start feeling melancholy and irritable, so it became more important for me to spend time outdoors.'The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.' ~Alfred AustinClick To Tweet
Once I started gardening, growing my own food quickly turned into a passion. I loved watching seedlings push through the earth, and then develop their tiny true leaves. I loved observing them grow larger day by day, then bloom, and then how those flowers became beans, strawberries or zucchinis.
Before I grew my own, I had no idea the food I ate every day grew this way. Each new fruit and vegetable was its own unique revelation. I still feel elated when I grow a plant I haven’t grown before.
The first zucchini I ate from my garden was life-changing. That first bite was the moment I realized the food I bought didn’t taste like it was supposed to. Zucchinis from the grocery store were bland and dry, not sweet and juicy like the one I had just grown. I asked myself why we were content buying flavorless food. How had we forgotten what food was supposed to taste like?
I learned an often overlooked truth: the healthier the soil is, the sweeter our food tastes, and the healthier our bodies are. Our food and our health start with the soil, and mass produced food is not grown in healthy soil. Instead, it is fed synthetic fertilizers that actually harm the soil and lack the micronutrients that we need for flavor and good health.
The more I grew my own food, and the more I learned about our agricultural system, the stronger my desire became to really get back to the land and grow as much of my family’s food as possible. I wanted to spend my days outdoors, not cooped up in an office. I decided I wanted to start homesteading.
I wanted to rid my life completely of bland food contaminated with toxic fertilizers and pesticides, and produce all of my own food. I wanted food that tastes sweet like it is supposed to, and a healthy body and mind to match. I knew then that I would never be truly healthy if my food didn’t grow in nutrient-dense soil.
A year and a half ago, my husband and I made the change. We bought our home on 6.5 acres and started down the path of homesteading. My garden is larger than any garden I’ve had before, but still not as large as I’d like it to be. Last summer, almost every single meal came from the garden and most of my days are spent outdoors. Our dream has started to become a reality. And we were right: this is how food is supposed to taste, and we feel so much better.
Monica shares about all her gardening adventures at The Nature Life Project. If you’d like to try your hands at growing your own super-tasty veggies, then make sure to get Monica’s Homestead Garden Planner. You’ll get everything you need to plan growing, get your garden organized, and keep track of your gardening adventures. Also, make sure to read up on starting your own Back to Eden garden.
Enjoyed this story on gardening and wellbeing? Here are more stories from the connecting with nature series:
Or, you can go read about the entire connecting with nature series here. And to make sure you don’t miss any future contributions to the series, sign up for the Take Them Outside Newsletter. You’ll get tips for connecting with nature, nature activity and adventure ideas, goodies, and news delivered right to your inbox every few weeks.