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Veg growers, the nicest people on the planet - March 2015

Since I shifted my attention away from work and towards growing food more seriously, I have met the nicest bunch of people. The Grow it Yourself organization is full of warm and lively souls, but generally allotmenteers and growers seem to be down-to-earth, caring and enthusiastic people. I have read that there are four times as many people with psychopathic characteristics among elite business people (judging by the lack of empathy shown, there are a fair number of sociopaths in our government too), but the opposite seems to be true of gardening folk. So you can keep the luxury lifestyle hobnobbing with rich and powerful psychopaths, I'll take a spade, some soil and the birdsong, thanks. If only the psychopaths would leave us to play our game in peace, I wouldn't have anything to do with them.

As any social scientist will tell you, association doesn't mean causality - just because gardeners are nice, it doesn't mean that gardening makes you a nice person! (I'm talking specifically edible gardening here; when it comes to ornamental gardening, I have met a few superior, competitive snobs in their rose gardens.) Growing food obviously attracts a certain kind of person - you don't think 'Shall I go out shopping for designer labels today, or shall I go down the plot?' - but I think that the action of growing your own food also brings out certain mellow, grounded, happy characteristics.

It has been shown that the smell of soil acts on our brains similarly to the smell of some essential oils to sooth and increase happiness. Likewise, exposure to friendly bacteria in soil helps fight depression and strengthen the immune system. The fresh air and exercise improve health and lower stress, and the fresh produce also improves health. We all know that growing fruit and veg leads to a big increase in the amount of it we eat, if only as a way to get through that mountain of courgettes or runner beans! Contrary to what every junk food advert will tell you, healthiness and a healthy diet play a major role in happiness, and happy people are by far the easiest to be around.

It's not just the garden as gym and health-food shop effect though. When you grow food, you have to tune in to the seasons. You have to match your pace to that of the planet. You can't go out sowing carrots in January because you decide you want to grow carrots. Well, you can, but you won't produce any roots to eat! If you decide you want to eat courgettes, for example, you have to get the seeds, wait for the proper season, sow the seeds, tend the plant and wait for it to fruit. That could be up to a year after initially reading a recipe! That's what you call 'slow food'. This antidote to the 'I want it now' culture we are bombarded with by the ad people is tremendously therapeutic to the soul.

Growing food also teaches a certain amount of stoicism. You can tend your purple sprouting broccoli perfectly well for nine months or so, and then an extreme cold spell will kill it off and that's that. Sometimes nature will just trump your efforts and that's all there is to it.

Perhaps all of this is why growers with immense knowledge and experience tend to be so generous with their time and expertise, not to mention seeds and cuttings, so tolerant of people underestimating their level of skill, and so disinclined to seek status. Why they also tend to care about the future of the planet, and all the plants and animals on it, including fellow humans.  From the things Prince Charles says and does, growing carrots can even make the aristocracy gentler beings! That's one of the many reasons why I continue to seek growers for my friends and say that everyone should grow some of their own food. If only someone could convince Simon Cowell and David Cameron to grow some lettuce, perhaps the world would be a gentler place!