Dr. Ruby Payne’s aha! Process teaches the hidden rules of social class, particularly surrounding food. In poverty, family meals are portion-focused as a result of exposure to food insecurity. Middle class meals have been arriving on tables without fail long enough for families to develop a preference for quality to impact health. The highest-quality food has been plentiful long enough for the wealthy class to seek meals that are aesthetically pleasing in addition to being convenient, tasty, and healthy.

The American Horticultural Society’s Master Gardener program is a civic club throughout North America that provides qualified volunteers with intensive education in horticulture. This college-level education on grass, trees, shrubs, flowers, and gardens comes with the requirement that each Master Gardener in turn gives their time to teach others, fundraise, participate in research, and maintain community gardens. Great amounts of comprehension and time are required to learn the expansive material. The stringency of the program maintains credibility and is a model of sustainability. While the club is actively seeking diversity, at this time it consists of more than 90% white women around age 65 who are educated and wealthy.

This raises a question regarding the popularity of gardening among the affluent, for whom laboring in the dirt is not necessary. Competition may fuel the quest to raise the perfect rose, but why grow food if not from necessity? Here are some things the wealthy class knows about gardening that the rest of us may not:

  • Gold standard nutrition includes large portions of fresh, organically grown local produce in wide variety. Fruits and vegetables lose nutrients sitting in trucks and warehouses.
  • Herbs taste best when freshly harvested, and DIY insures organic growing methods.
  • Kitchen gardens in the wealthy class are planted in nooks and sunny spaces that create a desirable view from near windows. Garden spaces are tucked into affluent residential architectural plans not only for convenience and aesthetic appeal, but also to utilize visual cues to impact family nutrition. In poverty, the visual messages surrounding food are billboards and advertisements for cheap, empty calories, while traditional row gardens grow at a distance from the house. Middle class yards are governed by homeowner’s associations that require vegetation to remain orderly, tidy, predictable, manicured, and often exclude traditional row gardens.
  • The process of growing food is educational for all ages, and caregivers in the wealthy class use every opportunity to teach children. In poverty, gardens represent previous generations’ outdated need for self-sufficiency. One teacher of suburban preschool students in upper middle class shifted her fall harvest lesson plan upon discovering that most students had never seen corn on the cob and had no knowledge of where corn comes from. As the shucks were removed, all were surprised to find corn inside. Middle class does not grow corn; noted.
  • The wealthy class views gardening as a healthy hobby used to decrease stress, while in poverty the number of families that garden is limited by housing instability and the capacity to make rent every month until harvest. In middle class it is common for both parents to work full-time, and hobbies are achievement-focused, leaving gardening low in popularity outside of the DIY curb appeal to compete with neighbors.

One factor that remains stable across socioeconomic groups is the human body’s nutritional requirements. Children in poverty need dark, leafy greens in their diet the same as affluent children, but kale just is not a common part of life in poverty.