Public Health Community Advisory –
Gardening for health is an old idea that is rapidly gaining wide recognition. The ramifications of gardening for health are widespread.
The main purpose of local gardening is to improve diet, especially in areas where fresh vegetables are expensive and hard to find. In even a small back yard, a family can grow enough food to make a significant nutritional contribution. Fresh vegetables can be frozen and stored for later use. And gardening can help the family to reduce its food budget.
The exercise involved in light gardening is helpful, appropriate, and motivating, and salutary for elders and others of limited physical ability or in sedentary occupations. Working in a garden’s pleasant surroundings uplifts the spirit and makes exercise more congenial.
Backyard gardens supply a single family’s food, but community gardens also make additional contributions. Community gardens provide growing space for those who lack space at home. They educate and motivate beginning gardeners, and they support backyard gardeners with loans of tools and occasional volunteer help. They provide gardening, cooking, nutrition, and food storage classes and resources. They provide the social support of company and conversation, which additionally rewards healthy exercise and eating. A weekly potluck for gardeners at the community garden provides a healthy neighborhood organizing event. Meanwhile, community gardens provide opportunities for youth to work with elders in learning new skills. Grade and high school classes can meet in gardens, or even grow their own gardens, to learn botany, genetics, nutrition, and similar scientific subjects. The practicality of gardening helps to motivate students who experience the sciences as irrelevant or abstract. And, selling vegetables at the local farmers’ market teaches youth small business skills and directs them to possible careers, including food processing, seed saving, composting, agronomy, and horticulture.
The UNMC College of Public Health supports the community gardening movement in a variety of ways. Through faculty members Rebecca Anderson, Ruti Margalit, Maurice Godfrey, Liliana Bronner, Andrew Jameton, and others, we are providing UNMC students with service-learning and research opportunities. Our VISTA / AmeriCorps program with Metropolitan Community College is helping to build community gardening education programs for children, families, and especially, at-risk youth. Through the NIH sponsored Science Education Partnership Award program, City Sprouts is partnering with UNMC and regional Native American communities to promote community gardens on Central High Plains reservations as well.
Major US cities now host thousands of community gardens, and the numbers are increasing. Gardening is a quiet public health movement helping the nation address its health-related obesity epidemic.
This article was written by Andrew Jameton, PhD, a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Promotion, Social and Behavioral Health. Part 2, “Mitigating the Negative Effects of Gardening,” will be published next month.