Brent Suter is used to fielding baseballs, but is he used to growing vegetables?
This year has been incredibly hard on millions of Americans, many of whom have lost loved ones or found themselves out of work. Even for those of us lucky enough to have the economic security to weather the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been an uneasy feeling to be stuck at home without knowing what the future holds.
Living in a virtual quarantine does have its upsides, such as allowing people to spend more time with their families. That’s certainly been true for me, but as I’ve waited for baseball to resume, I’ve used the time to discover a new passion that dovetails with my love for the environment – gardening.
The coronavirus pandemic has made us realize how fragile our economic system is, and it motivated me to try to become more independent – and at least partially get off the grid. If I can keep the momentum going with my garden, I should be able to provide about half of my family’s food from what I grow on my own land.
Equally important to our family, growing our own food allows us to control the food process, by using organic sources and practices, so we can trust that the food is free of pesticides and chemicals. And there are environmental benefits too – you don’t emit any pollution when you grow food in your own backyard, because it hasn’t been transported hundreds or even thousands of miles. You can’t get any more local than your own garden.
Even before I starting gardening, we were composting food scraps, and we’re now using soil from our compost pile for our garden. Not only is composting a great way to grow soil, it helps avoid wasting food. Roughly 30-40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is thrown out, and when it’s disposed of at landfills, it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.
Another environmental benefit of growing your own food is reducing demand for industrial farming, which contributes to the degradation of our topsoil, while runoff from large-scale farms pollutes our rivers, streams and lakes. When you care for your own garden, you’re engaging in better resource management. And of course there’s no wasteful packaging or plastic bags – not to mention the food tastes better.
I’m growing all kinds of plants: green and yellow tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, beets and radishes. I’ve also been growing microgreens for my smoothies, which are a great source of nutrition.
On a personal level, it’s been great to share this new hobby with my son Liam, who turned 19 months in May. It’s almost like a built-in science lesson for him – showing him the slugs and insects, and how big the sprouts are growing. One of the best ways to get kids to eat their veggies is to have them grow their own. I hope Liam falls in love with botany the way I have – learning how plants behave and grow, and how important climate and dependable rainfall are.
For me, gardening brings me back to my childhood, visiting my grandfather’s lake house in Kentucky. I smell the same smells now that I did at his garden.
Gardening is part of my larger effort to live a more sustainable life, one I hope to spread to other professional athletes. That’s why I recently joined a group called EcoAthletes, which works to educate athletes to talk about climate change. Sports figures have historically played leadership roles on social issues, and there’s no reason we can’t do so for the future of our planet.
Professional athletes have a unique platform, allowing us to literally reach millions of people, and EcoAthletes will help athletes feel more comfortable in discussing climate change.
We’ll be doing education seminars to prepare athletes to discuss the issues, and I’ll continue to engage with my teammates. I’ll do so with a sense of urgency, but not dread. I’ve found it’s important to be hopeful, not be all doom-and-gloom.
For many of us, working to combat climate change starts with small steps. If you have a yard, I’d encourage you to try gardening, which is a great way to help the environment, while also getting outside, reducing your food expenses, and leading a healthier life. To get started, check out this recent NPR story, This is A Good Time To Start A Garden. Here's How.
Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Brent Suter is Outrider's Sports Ambassador for the Environment. Follow Brent @Bruter24 and @StrikeOutWaste.