“Someone told me once, ‘It’s time to get you a pair of overalls, boy.’ But I don’t believe in summing up nothin’—I let my experiences speak for themselves—and even if I did, a synopsis should be singular. That’s why every time I go out to work in the fields, I work naked. It lets my neighbors speak of my experiences for me.” – M.C. Humphreys
By now you’ve probably seen the Internet hoopla for World Naked Gardening Day. The subject is everywhere, with its own page on Facebook and articles picked up by local newspapers whose reporters are doubtless having a “field day” talking about the first Saturday in May, when we are all expected to dip our uncovered toes in amongst the tommy-toes.
This is now a “tradition” of ten years. Words like “nudism” and “naturism” are all over the websites touting WNGD. But how did this whole idea get started? And what is naturism anyway, and why should we pay attention to it? Why do some of us like to take our clothes off when we work outside? And how can it be illegal for people to enjoy the practice of stripping down to the basics on their own property?
For precedents for this apparently eccentric, but possibly totally human and normal behavior, we have only to look at the very first chapter of the Holy Bible. There we will see that right off the bat, after making the world and all the plants and animals, God himself created a garden, and in it he placed two people. Two naked people. Thereon hangs a tale. For when, tricked by the Evil One, the first couple realized their nakedness, they experienced shame, and the whole idea of sin and regret was introduced into a setting that God had meant for happiness and fruit salad. Adam and his mate, Eve, felt compelled by their shame to hide their nakedness. Medieval painters who tackled the subject took this to mean that the couple covered their reproductive regions, thereby inventing and perpetuating the notion that certain parts of us are more shame-worthy than others. The fig leaf (chosen presumably for its size) was used for the purpose of concealment, guaranteeing that leaf’s place in the pantheon of classical art and folk humor.
Later in the Bible, in the book of Job, we have further proof, often quoted in defense of the natural-ness of nakedness: “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” Nakedness is our natural, original, innocent state. Right?
For corroboration, consider that children, if not chided, don’t mind being naked. Often we think it’s cute and encourage it. Child nakedness seems to offend in proportion to the age of the child; it’s okay to have photos of infants in the buff, but upwards of two years old, the public perception changes and such nudity has suspicious implications and is generally controlled or banned. Yet… in classical literature and art, the innocence of naked children was deemed an appropriate subject, leading to statues of little nymphs and cupids placed in gardens, meant as subtle reminders, I believe, of the pre-Biblical-Fall humans in their once non-threatening paradise.
Ruth Stout was a gardening guru who wrote many books about her theories. She was known as the “No-dig Duchess” whose unusual practices included covering everything with mulch, and uncovering herself while gardening. A while back, I wrote an article about her for Homestead org, and received a cordial email from one of her relatives thanking me for my portrayal of this radical gardening icon. Among his comments was confirmation of what I had reported—that it was not uncommon for the family to drive up to see her, and find Ruth clomping about in the garden totally unclothed.
The naturist movement is not new. Many notables have experienced garments to be a barrier to spiritual experience. Henry David Thoreau advised us not to “allow artifacts like clothing to intervene between ourselves and the Other.” Walt Whitman rhapsodized, “There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.” In the late 1700s, the term “naturism” came into parlance, and by the early 1900s, several European countries, notably France and Germany, saw nudity as healthy: exposure to the healing rays of sunlight and the zest of outdoor exercise were two benefits cited. Indeed, nudity went, as it were, hand in glove with such far-out ideas as vegetarianism and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol. In modern times, clothing-optional beaches are acceptable in most of Europe (even England). The Finns, living in one of the coldest climates available to human beings, like being naked and have few hang-ups about it. The French, well, what can I say? And the Germans think they invented nudism.
Some proponents of nudity have high ideals, believing that it promotes a sense of equality, removes occasions of envy evoked by clothing, and could eventually lead to a classless society.
In the 1950s in the US, there was a study that concluded that 75% of Americans never experienced any nudity at home, but by 1995, another study indicated that parental nudity had no negative effect on children, and by the year 2000, a Gallup poll indicated that 80% of Americans believed that “people who enjoy nude sunbathing should be able to do so as long as they do so at a beach that is accepted for that purpose,” and 25% admitted to having gone skinny-dipping in a “mixed group.”
So, it seems we have a taboo against nudity in almost every public situation among people of almost any age. But we will tolerate it in hidden enclaves, among other nude people, and many of us have an “old brain” secret longing to wake up, disrobe, and smell the flowers (being careful to avoid the thorns).
Trading on this ancient longing for a return to Eden, to innocence, and the feeling of sunlight on our bare, un-fig-leafed surfaces, Mark Storey, consulting editor for Nude & Natural magazine, and Jacob Gabriel, on behalf of Body Freedom Collaborative, dreamed up World Naked Gardening Day, back in 2005. These avowedly innocent, but somewhat mischievous, subculture entrepreneurs saw the idea as dovetailing with the under-the-radar activity known as “guerilla pranksterism.” Though Storey and Gabriel have maintained a calculated distance from WNGD, they also admit that they were trying to create a sense that the naturist gardening movement, if there is one, “was valuable and would grow organically on its own.”
The claim is made that most people regard gardening as the second activity they might agree to undertake with others, outdoors, without clothes (swimming is first, in case you wondered). So WNGD is just a call to a normal, harmless urge. Of course, there are those who, reacting with a touch of sarcasm to the call of WNGD, invite its fans to come on over to their homestead and walk around naked for a little while. The bees, rocks, and briars would soon convince these anti-clothes activists to think again. Still, if the photos on Facebook and elsewhere are to be believed, naked gardening is fun, as long as you’re careful where you step, and remember the sunscreen and the bug spray!
So, with all the good reasons for gardening—a generally perfectly acceptable activity—while clad only in one’s birthday suit, what are the options for those of us who want to enjoy next year’s WNGD?
To pursue my research on this topic, I investigated numerous websites for what are often called “nudist colonies.” I was astonished to learn that within 45 miles of my home in modest Mayberry, there is a nude “ranch.” I sought out the website and glommed the photos and the information. “Oh my, Andy!” as Aunt Bea might have said.
Wider searches revealed that one may get publicly nude most anywhere in America, but only in a private way. To go nude among likeminded naked people, one must confine oneself to certain places and times. The image of a “camp” or “ranch” is generally apt; a secluded spot where you might go for a few days of vacation, or just a few hours for a quick dip in the pool, a woodland walk, and a round of volleyball. Nudists can join official societies, and often advocate their cause by blogging. But beware: Googling nudity and related subjects may result is seeing more than you wanted to, and, to be fair, some supposed “nudist camp” websites are little else than a chance to display unwholesome pictures, some of which border on pornography.
So, if you want to stay legal, and enjoy nature as perhaps God intended, how can you combine actual nakedness and actual gardening, as the proponents of WNGD are encouraging us to do?
One possibility is Toadally Natural Garden.
I was very pleased to find among the sometimes problematic nudist websites, this cheerful, family oriented, garden-centered operation, and to learn more from the owners, Paul and Jane Groth, about this Wisconsin-based “clothing optional” farm and garden that started life as a fully-clothed farm and garden.
Jane says, “When my mother and I purchased this farm in 1997, the neighbor, a certified-organic dairy-farmer rented some of the fields from the previous owner and we continue to do that to the present day. Because he is certified, we have to sign a contract stating that we will abide by organic standards.” Jane’s husband Paul grew up on a hog farm in Hartford and she grew up on a beef farm, so they weren’t really involved in organic techniques. “I know my dad used weed killer in the fields as did all the neighbors, no one understanding how it would affect the nutritional value of the soil/plants or disturb the microbiology of the soil creatures and insects. It was USDA approved and suggested.”
Jane admits that initially, the benefits of organic growing are hard to see, “But after many years we have seen that we have a more manageable disease rate and the insect population is more varied, although raising bees still is a problem. Weeds grow rampant, but now with more education we found out that ‘weeds’ are only weeds if they are in a place where you don’t want them. They have many nutritional benefits and are a symptom of the chemistry of the soil.”
“…One day in the fall of 2010 after the youngest was out of the house,” Jane recounts, “Paul said he wanted us to take a trip,” to a place in Florida. “He described it as a nudist gathering spot. Paul loved being naked at home, especially gardening, and I would join him if the weather was right and no one around.” Jane imagined the worst, entertaining fears that their marriage was heading for disaster, but she finally gave in after looking at the camp’s website. On that visit, Jane remembers, there were two “incidents” that were handled by camp staff. She was impressed. “One violator was even escorted off the beach by a police officer. I felt safe and protected. I told Paul that if that is what he had in mind that I would like to be able to offer that freedom and body-acceptance at our farm to others.”
So, in the summer of 2012, the Groths opened their well-established farm as a clothing-optional “gathering spot for nudists, naturists, and other likeminded individuals, with gardening as the center for our existence. About one week after contacting the Naturist Society, located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, we got our first long time member: a physician whose route to work passed close by. More organic gardeners followed including horticulturists, teachers, business owners, retirees, firefighters, business owners, engineers, factory workers, and others covering different educational, religious, racial, physical, political, and salary differences. Visitors coming from other states, college students doing research on organics and/or on the sexual implications of group nudity.”
To preserve their own security and that of the visitors to Toadally Natural Garden, all day-guests and long-term members fill out a form, provide their drivers license and get a background check. As Jane so tactfully puts it, “Being nude can be the ultimate freeing experience and stress cure—so we are always watchful to make sure it stays that way.”
One highlight for the Groth’s and their unusual, innovative farm-center came about in 2014, when “We had representatives of the French Fur Traders of the 1800s with five teepees, stories, games and activities of Native Americans, and found that we ran on a parallel thought plan with an awareness of the many cultures of the world and being good stewards to Mother Earth with help from an unseen/understood entity (God or whatever you believe in). By the second day one joined in being clothing free.”
I was impressed by the Groths’ stated intention to pursue organic farming and optional dressing: “Our goal is to represent all cultures to bring people, insects, animals, and earth/air together, each supporting each other.”
Jane believes, based on what she is told by their many diverse visitors, that their business is unique in the naturist world, at least in the US, because, unlike land set aside just to let folks come and shed their garb, the Groths’ place started as an organic farm and still operates as one, but it grew, organically, into its secondary purpose. Toadally Natural Garden allows visitors to observe and participate in farm life with whatever clothing options they choose. Its gradual development into a naturist spa, complete with gardening, seems to me to represent a form of guerilla activism, not unlike that espoused by the founders of WNGD.
If you want a place to spend the next WNGD, you might want to contact the Groths. In case you were wondering if the first Saturday in May in Wisconsin might be a bit icy on the dermis, the Groths have this testimonial on their website, from someone who visited on May 2, 2012 (almost, but not quite, WNGD that year): “We were blessed with warm and sunny weather so we spent most of our stay sitting by the pond on the grounds. It was so nice to be able to spend time while nude with friends while listening to the birds, frogs, etc. by the pond. It is a blessing to have nudist opportunities in Southeastern Wisconsin. I encourage other nudists in the area to look into visiting Toadally Natural Garden.”
Toadally Natural Garden offers day-visits, memberships, garden-plot rental and work sharing, and activities beyond simple recreation for the whole family or just the lone naked gardener in need of a place to dig. They do commemorate WNGD, open to anyone (within their guidelines) to come and share the festivities. This year, Jane tells me, for WNGD, “We transplanted peppers and tomatoes. Sowed flower seeds in our sun-celebration garden. We did our annual maypole dance followed by beach volleyball.”
It’s not too early to plan for the next World Naked Gardening Day. You can decide to stay home and keep your clothes on while planting the summer seeds, or you can consider breaking out of your old patterns, grabbing the sunscreen and the insect repellent, and making that call. If, like me, you find few naturist enclaves where actual gardening is part of the activity list, I’m sure the folks at Toadally Natural Garden would be happy to hear from you.
Note: No writers were publicly disrobed in the creation of this article.