Food Agriculture & Nutrition Network of Solano County
Author: Aly Hite, Project Assistant, Healthy Cooking with Kids, Inc.
Gardening is a fast-growing trend in the United States as people are leaning towards a more sustainable lifestyle. There are many reasons gardening is a personal health benefit as well as an environmental benefit. Some people turn to gardening as simply a means of nourishment, while others depend on their gardens to help them unwind from their fast-paced lives.
People across the nation are planting personal gardens in their back yards to offset costs of buying produce from the grocery store. There is also a reduction in a person’s carbon footprint associated with the transportation of produce from the source to the consumer. If it is grown outside a person’s house, there is no transportation needed! It is a gratifying experience to consume fresh produce after laboring in the garden for several weeks or months. Fresh fruits and vegetables generally are more nutrition-rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, compared to more processed alternatives found at a typical grocery store. In an “anit-GMO” and “organic only” political climate, some people find it easier to control such variables by simply growing their own food.
Communities and schools are also rallying to create safe growing spaces for residents and students. There are many types of financial incentives, such as grants, for school districts to promote fully functioning school gardens. If gardens can obtain Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification through the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), produce procured from the garden can be served to students as a part of meals served in the cafeteria (1). This in turn offsets food production costs for the school system. Enriching curriculum through garden activities and demonstrations is an innovative way for teachers to get students focusing on the physical world outside the classroom.
Gardening has also been proven to be an even more effective stress-reliever than other leisure activities, according to the Permaculture Research Institute’s published study from the Netherlands. Increased moods and lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were reported in participants who gardened for 30 minutes versus a group who read for 30 minutes (2). It is believed that contact with a harmless bacteria found in dirt, Mycobacterium vaccae, increases serotonin production, which is a mood-regulating hormone responsible for happiness (4).
In a society that is so dependent on pharmaceuticals, gardening may actually be a new wave of treatment for depression and bipolar disorders. A study conducted in Norway suggests that a mere six hours of gardening a week for three months may be enough to reduce symptoms of depression, with results lasting for several months following exposure (3).
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), gardening classifies as a moderate-intensity level activity. Gardening for 2.5 hours per week is thought to reduce the risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis, among other illnesses (5). School gardens are especially helpful in keeping youth physically active during an otherwise low-activity school day.
Many helpful resources are available online from federal programs, non-profits, school-based gardening initiatives, and other community collaborations for people are interested in getting started on their own sustainable food source.