Happy Fourth!

If you haven’t heard of “forest bathing”—the Japanese concept that we can improve our health by spending some quiet time in nature—you’ll find our feature article on the subject (page 36) fascinating and encouraging. Fascinating because there is clinical evidence that regularly relaxing in a park or under a tree, just watching and listening to the sights and sounds around us, can actually lower blood pressure and cholesterol, ease stress and even reduce the risk of death from type 2 diabetes. Encouraging because in addition to our beautiful beaches (our most famous relaxation spots), Northwest Florida is also blessed with an abundance of green spaces and parks. Lucky us: No matter where we live on the Emerald Coast, free therapy is right in our backyard.

As an avid gardener, I also find it therapeutic to grow my own food—to till the soil, plant the seeds, care for the crop, wait patiently for it to grow and mature, and then eat it. What a satisfying reward! So I was glad to see agriculture take center stage in this month’s issue of Natural Awakenings, with fresh perspectives on where and how we produce our food these days, and why it matters.

In “Crops in the City: Urban Agriculture Breaks New Ground” (page 24), writer April Thompson profiles some pioneers who are practicing organic city farming on a commercial scale. They have found their niche on rooftops, in vertical tower gardens and in abandoned warehouses in former food deserts, reconnecting urbanites to their food sources while improving the environment, communities, diets and health.

Meanwhile, budding backyard growers are getting a boost from the small army of experts planted in nearly every county in the nation, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Help for Home Gardeners: Extension Agents at Your Service” (page 28) details the many resources they provide. Those include low- or no-cost soil testing, the latest research, handbooks on a variety of local gardening topics, and workshops on everything from making rain barrels to implementing eco-friendly pest control.

Herbs are an especially easy crop for the novice gardener to grow. And because most herbs love hot weather, July is an ideal time to plant them in an outdoor pot or plot. Whether or not you grow your own, take advantage of the summer bounty by adding fresh, organic herbs to salads, smoothies and other hot-weather eats and treats. They add depth of flavor to any meal, and they also have numerous health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, improving mineral balance, boosting immunity, increasing hydration and energy, and supporting skin health. Discover the best herbs to choose this time of year in “Summer Eating: The Herbal Connection” (page 34).

July is a time to appreciate the gifts that we’ve been given, from the natural wonders that surround us to the freedoms generations of brave Americans have won. Let’s protect those gifts and honor the givers.

Happy Fourth!

Scott & Daralyn

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