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Gardening - The season is coming to an end, but not the benefits!

Friday, September 9, 2016

When I was a little girl growing up in Honeoye, my family befriended a man named Al.  He was a kind, gentle man who lived in a group home for veterans.  Al’s therapy was his garden.  He did not drive so during the summer months, we often picked him up in the morning and drove him to a small plot of land donated by a local farmer.  There was a small shed, a rain barrel, and rows upon rows of vegetables.  Al would plant, weed, water, and harvest all summer long.  His vegetables fed the group home and our house as well.  I still remember large crocks full of carrots and potatoes that lasted us well into the winter months.  Al did not talk much but spoke volumes when he smiled and handed you a fresh cucumber out of the garden, still warm from the sun.  Nothing tasted better.  This was way back in the 1960s and 70s.  Not too much was known then about all the benefits of gardening but since then, science has confirmed what Al knew intuitively.  Gardening is good for the soul and for the body.   Researchers use fancy language like gardening is positively correlated with social and interpersonal skills or gardening positively influences attitudes towards healthy nutrition and environmental stewardship.   But all that really means is that folks who garden generally connect better with people, like fruits and vegetables more, and love the land!  

This past summer, a group of children in Lima had the chance to experience gardening first hand.  Noyes Health with funding from the Rural Health Grant of New York State created new raised bed gardens and provided healthy nutrition curriculum for the Great Expectations Childcare Center.   Petra Page-Mann, owner of the organic seed and plant company Fruition Seeds, spent a morning back in early June, teaching the children about seeds and how to plant.  She also sent seed packets home with every child for their families to enjoy.  Then the staff of Great Expectations took over.  Under the direction of co-owner, Jane Chatterton, the teachers integrated a fruit and vegetable curriculum into their class work.  In addition, the children had the opportunity to plant, weed, water, and harvest vegetables, herbs, and even edible flowers.  The kiddos also got a lesson in entomology during a Japanese beetle invasion!  

Overall, the project was a grand success. The children learned the biology of plant growth, worked the soil, and harvested a variety of vegetables.  They tasted cherry tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, beans, peppers, ground cherries and more.   According to numerous studies over the last three decades, children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables or express a preference for these foods.  In one past childcare garden project, 57% of parents reported that their children now ate veggies that they did not eat before gardening.  

Because garden programs like the one with Noyes Health and Great Expectations include lessons on nutrition, children are more knowledgeable about healthy eating in general.   There is also mounting evidence that active learning in less structured spaces like gardens is more likely to transform children’s food attitudes and habits.  All this leads to lifelong benefits.  A 2005 study of over 2,000 men and women found that those who picked flowers, fruits and vegetables in childhood were more likely to show an interest in gardening as they aged.  Even more important, is the lifelong desire to eat fruits and vegetables which is crucial for healthy digestion, immune function, and weight management.  If we can hook children on vegetables at an early age, it may help curb the obesity epidemic.  

Noyes Health will once again be building a garden for a childcare center in Livingston County in 2017.  If you know of a childcare center who would like to participate in this program, please contact Lorraine Wichtowski, Noyes Health community health educator, at 585-335-4327 or lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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