Food deserts are an increasingly recognised problem in the United States and a new study indicates urban and home gardens – combined with nutrition education – could be a path toward correcting food scarcity.
In a new study from the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, published by Elsevier, researchers from the University of California at San Francisco partnered with Valley Verde, a community-based urban garden organisation in Santa Clara County, California.
The aim was to better understand participants’ perceptions of the health benefits and acceptability of urban home gardening programmes. Interest in such programs has been on the rise, and this is a critical next step before beginning large-scale trials of how effective they are.
Lead author Kartika Palar, PhD, Department of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA, said: “This home-based model can play a vital role in urban agriculture and has the potential to directly impact health by tying the garden to the household.”
She added that home and community gardens are complementary approaches to urban agriculture, together promoting a more resilient local food system.
Gardens for the people
Researchers followed 32 participants – mostly Hispanic/Latinos and women – in Valley Verde’s gardening program for one year. The program serves a predominantly low-income and immigrant population, providing them with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to grow their own organic vegetable gardens.
Valley Verde staff provided 10 monthly workshops for each participant focused on organic gardening skills building as well as nutritional education, like strategies to increase vegetable, fruit and whole-grain intake; healthy shopping strategies; and culturally preferred healthy recipes.
Participants were interviewed before, during and after the program to track what they learned and how they were implementing it. Nearly every participant indicated they ate more vegetables and fruits because of the programme, citing increased affordability, accessibility, freshness, flavour and convenience of the garden produce.
A 47-year-old female participant said in the study, describing how the garden helped during times of the month when money ran low: “We had some delicious meals with lots of peas because the winter peas were doing really well, and then we could just draw on that when you’re out of options.
“[Fruits and vegetables] are a more steady supply. Now we just go and just harvest it and just have it all the time.
A 34-year-old male participant said in the study said: “I value more the things that I cook, and the things that I get from my garden, over the things I buy. There’s a big difference…. I feel good that I grew it and I am eating something that I grew. So, for me, it’s priceless.”
Gardening has positive impacts on health
Participants also frequently described having less stress, as well as a rise in exercise and drop in sedentary behaviour both for adults and children. Tending the garden led to more physical activity because of the need to water, weed, harvest and plant at regular intervals.
The study suggests an urban gardening model that integrates home gardening with culturally appropriate nutrition and gardening education has the potential to improve a range of health behaviours that are critical to preventing and managing chronic disease, especially among low-income, urban Hispanic/Latino households.
Dr Sheri Weiser, MD, the senior author of the study, said: “Urban agriculture is an important community resource that may contribute not only to nutrition and health, but also to urban development and social connection.”
She added that combining urban home gardening with nutrition education is an innovative strategy to help to reduce the burden of preventable diseases, such as diabetes, in low-income populations with limited access to healthy food.