The Victory Garden Evolved: the new Health Garden and why we all need to grow our own food

The resurgence of the Victory Garden has been discussed on multiple forums since Michelle Obama started her own home garden on the lawn of the White House in 2009.

obama garden.

When considering the current state of our environment, climate and personal health, the Victory Garden becomes appealing, but perhaps an apt name is now, the Health Garden. If each of us grew a Health Garden, we could have large scale impacts on our bodies and our world. Here are 6 reasons for stating this:

1. Physical and Mental Health Benefits: According to an article in Biomed Central, people that were given an allotment garden (a small plot of land to grow vegetables) showed significantly improved life satisfaction and physical activity when compared to a control group without a garden. Most of the study respondents were living in urban (65-70%) or suburban (27-31%) settings. Other research published in the journal of Social Science and Medicine found that interaction with community gardens led urban gardeners to form emotional connections with their gardens  and stimulated learning, affirming and expressive experiences.  So many of us have low vitamin D these days. Vitamin D3, the active form of the vitamin that our body needs is only made through direct exposure of the skin to the sun. Getting outside to work in the garden will therefore offer the added benefit of increasing our Vitamin D3 levels, improving energy and boosting mood.

2. Fresh and (hopefully) Organic Food: One of the greatest benefits of growing your own food is that you will know where your food is coming from. Growing small scale lends itself to organicworm castings growing practices. Garden stores near you have organic soils to start you off, or if you are very motivated, you can start your own compost project.These days, food can be shipped all over the world. Often, produce is picked before it is ripe to ensure it will upstand travel, as in the case of bananas which decreases the overall health content of the food you consume. With a home garden, you will know when your food is harvested and harvesting right before cooking and or eating will lead to the highest vitamin and mineral content, boosting your health. These days with the known harmful effects of pesticides both on the environment and our bodies, we all should be making efforts to move towards organic food whenever possible. A home garden provides an affordable way to do this.

3. Decreases your Carbon Footprint: The more food you grow at home, the less you are relying on shipments fueled by carbon and the carbon emitted if you drive to and from and the grocery store. Further more, plants take carbon out of the air and convert it to Oxygen and carbohydrates with the help of the sun, reducing your carbon footprint further, making your own contribution to slowing climate change. Additionally, the more green we have covering the planet also combats climate change. It is lovely to think that by growing your own food you benefit yourself and your world through the use of star power. Need some motivation to get growing?  Calculate your carbon footprint here.

4. Exposure to diverse flora: One of the most interesting things I have learned in this past year is that just as we have specific bacteria (our microbiome) that live upon us symbiotically, so do plants. To learn more, listen to Biologist Jeanne Romero-Severson on Science Friday from October 2014. Just as different humans and animals have unique microbiomes, plants also have unique microbiomes. Diversity of plants then leads to a diversity of bacteria present in the soil of our gardens. As we work, live and eat in the presence of gardens, we are allowing our bodies to be exposed to a greater diversity of bacteria than we might otherwise be exposed to. While we have only begun to scratch the surface of understanding of the intriguing story of the microbiome, it is my thought that we will begin to uncover a multitude of benefits to the microbiome from local gardening of diverse produce.

5. Provides much needed habitat and food sources for pollinators (birds, bees, and butterflies): One of the greatest impacts that monocropping of corn, wheat and soy since the butterfliesadvent of farm subsidies has been the impact on our pollinators which ultimately stands to threatened our food sources further. This effect is growing, with the use of more pesticides with the relatively recent development Roundup resistant strains of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which wipes out much of the weeds that pollinators feed on. Birds, bees, and butterflies benefit from home gardens very directly in that they provide food and shelter for these animals to survive in. This is particularly true in urban environments, but rural areas as well, as this will allow for more food sources as they migrate over great distances. Want to save the Monarch butterflies?  You will be contributing to their survival just by growing your own food organically, but for an added benefit, you could also throw some Milkweed in there while you’re at it.

beets26. Increase the variety of the food you eat: When you grow your own vegetables you can grow diverse plant species in smaller quantities than larger growers may be limited to based on yields and marketability. Heirloom vegetables are more beautiful and the more variety you get in the foods you eat, the more likely you are benefitting your body with micronutrients you didn’t even know you needed. Furthermore, the more diversity in our ecosystems we create, the more likely we will support other living beings which leads to overall healthier ecosystems. I have found wonderful organic heirloom seeds from High Mowing Organic Farms out of Vermont. But there are many out there and you may even be able to get local seed suppliers with a visit to your local farmers market. Try it out for yourself, or if you grow enough specialty veggies and you can venture to make a farm to table deal with some of your local chefs who are always looking for trendy fruits and vegetables to help them stand out.

You may think: “I live in the city, I could never have a garden.” That might be true in some cases, but there are also opportunities for indoor gardens, and if you have even a small amount of land and light, like the rowhouses around DC have, you too can have an urban garden. In fact, I proport that the urban environment is where we should be encouraging home gardens the most. In urban environments, everyone benefits from the aesthetics of added greenery which have a relaxing and calming effect.

bathtub herb garden community gardenHere is a picture of a bathtub we repurposed for our herbs in our urban environment. Community gardens (ours is pictured on the right) are also a wonderful opportunity for those lacking light and green space to have a garden. If you don’t have a community garden near you, keep your eyes open for public space that might be converted to a community garden.  In our area, when a newly developed property was going in, the developers needed to give some of the land to the public to form a park. It was during this negotiation period that our community garden was formed.  Here is a link to an article by the American Community Gardening Association on starting a community garden. And here is a list of community gardens in Washington, DC. You can google community gardens in your area to find your local community gardens.

It’s Winter now, which is the perfect time to grab a cup of hot tea and stare out your window, contemplating your garden planting for Spring. Just the thought of it warms me right up.

© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

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