It’s a concept that’s more than a little confusing: Food companies and farms that choose to grow and sell organic products and label them as such must take rigorous and expensive steps to get certified. Only then can they display the prestigious USDA Organic seal on their food, and even then, they must continue to get recertified annually.

But “organic” simply means “natural”—the way nature intended—so organizations, such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Organic Trade Association, believe it’s the nonorganic growers who should be subject to excessive scrutiny, not the ones who work in harmony with Mother Nature.

If you agree with them and think that sounds a little backward, you’re not alone. But while these groups and many others are working to get the food industry to phase out high-yield agricultural practices, such as using and developing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and chemical pesticides, there is something you can do—start your own organic vegetable garden at home.

“Organic gardening may sound intimidating, but the principle is quite simple,” says Mike Rittenhouse Rigby, a landscape consultant and designer in Virginia who has been growing organic produce for more than 40 years. “If it’s made from oil, plastic or chemical sources, just don’t use it. You have more control over Earth’s destiny than you might think.”

The latest dirt on organic gardens

It’s true: The small step of going organic in your own veggie garden will benefit your health and the health of the planet.

When you grow your own food, you’re reducing your carbon footprint; instead of getting in the car and driving to the store for food and ingredients that may have been shipped in from across the world, you’re simply heading out your back door and picking them yourself. You also have more control over how your food is grown, so it’s fresher and healthier for you and your family. Unnatural chemical fertilizers and pesticides decrease soil fertility and zap plants of essential vitamins and minerals. According to a 2014 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition many organically grown vegetables contain 20 to 40 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.

By following organic principles, you’re also being kind to the birds, bees, butterflies and other critters that might visit your garden. (And humans, too; pesticide use on produce has been linked to a number of health hazards, ranging from headaches and nausea to endocrine disruption and cancer.) The purpose of a chemical pesticide is to kill pests; unfortunately, most are indiscriminate, also killing off beneficial organisms in the soil and friendly insects above ground. Harmful pesticide residue can also be carried off in the wind or seep into groundwater. This means it’s damaging our water sources, which in turn diminishes the health of the planet.

“We don’t often think of our gardens as being part of the local watershed, but when water falls onto our garden from the sky or from our hose, it’s going to do one of two things: either sink in or run off, and most of it runs off,” explains Morgan Vondrak, a California-based landscape designer who specializes in sustainability. “As water runs off our properties and to the nearest body of water, it picks up pollutants along the way, like brake dust, gas and oil from cars, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and dog poo, just to name a few. Multiply that by hundreds of homes in an area, and that’s a lot of polluted runoff making its way into our rivers, lakes and oceans.”

And that doesn’t just happen when you live near a large body of water, says Jenifer Atkinson, chair of the Colorado Ocean Coalition, a grassroots organization growing across the country as more citizens raise concerns over water quality. “In fact, 80 percent of all pollution in the ocean comes from an inland source,” says Atkinson. “And since the ocean generates about 70 percent of the oxygen we need to breathe, we encourage people to shift their habits to more sustainable ones. Organic gardening, including the reduction of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, is an essential step in improving water quality, now and for generations to come.”

If you’re not quite ready to commit to your own organic garden, we suggest starting small, perhaps volunteering a few hours at a community garden to see if you enjoy it or experimenting with a few plants in containers on the deck.

But if you’re eager to get started, we’ve outlined some basic steps for you here.