Your Community and Social Networks are Vital to Your Life and Health

Saturday, July 23, 2011

As a Vintage 1946 Baby Boomer I'm approaching a turning point in my life as I reach 65 years old. Like many of my generation, my identity and friends have mostly been made through my work. It is one of the characteristics of our age. Everything seems to be work and time related. When we retire, we are sometimes removed from this community and retirement sometimes means a loss of health and even a death sentence to some, but a time to thrive to others.

One of the key differences between a healthy and an unhealthy retirement is your social network. The type of network or community that you belong to is not as important as having one. There are many ways to approach this: some people have a rich social life with their church, others with sports, some volunteer and work for causes that appeal to them with people of like minds.

Like many of my generation, most of my friends were through work and some of my best friends to this day are from jobs that I held years ago. As I've moved to follow my changing careers from art gallery owner, to furniture designer, furniture manufacturing executive, Waldorf school teacher, non-profit charity executive, life insurance sales, etc. I've worked with large communities to small communities, in public and behind the scenes. Once I had accepted that I had retired, it is my turn to decide how to survive or thrive.

A friend who belongs to a strong supportive community in Los Angeles introduced me to the writings of Eckhart Tolle and this led me to start to slow down and pay attention what was happening in the Present instead of living in the past or future, where many of us spend most of our time. I started with my garden, an uncultivated collection of trees, wild grasses, with drought resistant ground covers and my wife's potted herbs. I listened to the birds, paid attention to the plantings and became interested and aware, for the first time of my whole home environment, instead of driving up the drive and virtually ignoring the fruit trees the watering needs of each, etc.

After several weeks of reading Tolle and contemplating my wild garden, I noticed a class to become a Master Composter through the Solana Center of Environmental Innovation. I had done some Biodynamic inspired composting in the past when I was teaching at the Waldorf School of San Diego, but I had become busy with my work and had abandoned it. I thought that this was familiar subject where I could learn more. One of the requirements of this class was to volunteer 30 hours for the Solana Center and I thought that this was an additional benefit that would help me to connect with a new community,which it did. The class was very informative and inspirational and I've been making compost since the class and using it in my brand new garden.

How did I get a brand new garden? One of the unexpected benefits of the class was to learn about a new series of classes created by Victory Gardens of San Diego. The first class was Gardening 101. I had never had a successful garden before and I learned enough to feel empowered to create my own after the class. Victory Gardens also gave me an opportunity to volunteer for Garden Builds where a group of volunteers meet at a individuals home and work together to help them create a garden in half a day from start to finish, with seeds and seedling planted and transplanted before we go. After a volunteering on a couple of successful, supervised Garden Builds, I was finally ready to apply what I had learned to my own garden.

Of course, by this time I had started by second class with the Solana Center in Encinitas and this was Community Gardening 201, about developing and managing a community garden. It was because of this class that I started volunteering with Judith Jacoby, the Community Garden Coordinator for the City of La Mesa. Today, I received and email that the City of La Mesa is closer to having its first joint use Community Garden with Helix Charter High School as it was the recipient of the Joint Use Garden Pilot Project Planning Grant. When this is fully realized as a community garden, there will be many opportunities to volunteer and associate with a community of adult gardener of all ages and students and faculty at the high school.

The value of community gardens goes beyond the ability to have one's own garden space to grow fresh vegetables and the exercise, fresh air, and sunshine that go with it. The value is in the coming together of a community of people who can meet and enjoy the support and friendship of each other. According to Younger Next Year, an excellent book by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. there are three important aspects to a long and healthy life: stop eating crap (and you know what that is), exercise vigorously every day (at least 6 days a week), and form and maintain strong, positive social connections through memberships in organizations, volunteering, etc.

In The Longevity Project, authors Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin reviewed studies of 1500 individuals that was started in 1921 and found out that the strongest predictor of health and long life was their continued strong social connections throughout their life whether in church or secular memberships. It is the belonging and participating in a positive community of your choosing that will give you the edge and help you to "live long and prosper."

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    2212 days ago
    Great ideas and implementation as well !!

    3252 days ago
    I see that this blog needs a little update! A year has passed and now I am an officially certified University of California Master Gardener. I was lucky to be accepted into a class of 56 people, the size of the classroom's maximum capacity. I'm on the School Garden Committee, the Community Garden Committee, and the Certified Earth Friendly Garden Committee. I've just been appointed to the Sustainability Commission of the City of La Mesa and my Permaculture Design Course project is to propose a Permaculture design for the La Mesa Community Garden with a team from my class which will be presented on July 29. When the studying is all done, I've got to make a Permaculture Site Analysis of my garden and start making the changes that I need to make to make it more earth friendly, more sustainable, and a beautiful place to spend time. emoticon
    3252 days ago
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    3252 days ago
    Wow Chanetc -- you've always got something interesting going on. :)
    3564 days ago
    Totally amazing! I am involved in social capital projects and have become so much more aware of the need for all kinds of relationships in our lives. My circle includes a number of feisty elders whose common denominator for health and well being is 1) being needed and 2) giving back. I suspect your chosen path for retirement will have you thriving for sure!
    3611 days ago
    I'm applying in the fall for our San Diego Master Gardener Program. They have a series of training classes and I hope that I am accepted so that I can participate.
    3616 days ago
  • SILLYHP1953
    Wow...what a great way to keep being involved! I tried to be accepted in our county Master Gardener program, but 50 some people wanted to join and they could only pick 20, and the retired people who had the time to devote were chosen. They really had more to offer, too. But I'll try again in four years when hopefully I'll retire. I love being out in my yard and my goal is to one day have no grass, just different garden beds and paths. Master gardeners would be cool people to hang out with.
    3616 days ago
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