My hen house and garden are overflowing. I love sharing extra eggs, apples, tomatoes, basil and kale with neighbors and friends.
Fellow green thumbers are equally generous with their backyard endeavors. One neighbor routinely surprises us with cartons of garden-fresh soup and loaves of steaming bread. Another brings bundles of radishes or bags of pineapple guavas when we get together.
We even plan our crops so that we don’t overlap what another is already growing. “You planted a mission fig. I’ll try another variety,” one friend recently told me. Or “Your chickens lay blue and green eggs. I’ll try different breeds so we can all learn from the experience.”
Our makeshift food network keeps our tummies and refrigerators full. But its benefits extend far beyond our kitchens. First off, we have lots of fun. We all love sharing our successes. We’ve spent afternoons giggling and bonding while stirring a batch of blackberry jam.
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We feel appreciated and loved. Each jar or basket on our doorstep says, “I care about you.”
We get to meet new neighbors. One newcomer on the block inherited a backyard full of orange trees, far more than she could use. We spent an afternoon together talking family history and helping pick her citrus.
Our emotional safety nets are strengthened as we exchange our homegrown goods. It’s understood that the friends who arrive with bags of apricots would also show up if we were ill. And, since safety nets are strongest when they’re woven with many fibers, the more people we have in our emotional network, the more support we’ll have when it’s needed.
Sharing food provides opportunities for healing. I recently slipped a few squash to a cold-shouldered neighbor who has barely spoken to us in years. While I harbor no expectations about the outcome, I’ve made a small step toward détente.
Even our bodies profit from our sharing. Research shows that people who give to others experience less stress, decreased pain, better sleep and improved immune systems. Another study found giving led to significant decreases in blood pressure, stomach acid and cholesterol counts.
We sharers revel in our own “helper’s high,” a sense of euphoria that accompanies volunteering or giving to someone else. It’s the result of an increase in the feel-good chemical, dopamine.
According to National Institutes of Health neuroscientist Jordan Grafman, “Those brain structures that are activated when you get a reward are the same ones that are activated when you give. In fact, they’re activated more.”
What began as an innocent means of getting rid of excess produce has become a healthy source of joy and interaction. So I’ll continue to spread my agrarian wealth, knowing full well that I’m gaining far more than I give away.
Share and share alike
Interested in sharing more with others? Consider these ideas:
• Share because you want to. Don’t expect anything from your recipients in return.
• Share what you have. Let your skills and interests dictate what you share. Perhaps you’re a whiz at fixing kids’ bicycles or you can weave scarves on your loom.
• Know your audience. Tune in to cues about what they might or might not like. Then tailor your gift to fit their needs. For instance, don’t give bread to a person who’s allergic to wheat. Save that loaf for a friend who loves sandwiches.
• Don’t overdo. No one wants to feel deluged by your efforts, even if you’re giving something good. Keep your donations to an appropriate level so that you don’t cause undo embarrassment. • Avoid tying yourself to commitments. Steer clear of promises or other arrangements you won’t be able to keep. Best to keep things casual so no one feels stress.
• Have fun. Yes, it feels good to share with others. But sharing can quickly become a chore. Make enjoyment your first priority so you don’t suffer from burn out.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com