Way to go, LA Sprouts!

It has been so inspiring to see so many gardening programs popping up in schools and summer programs across the country this spring. Last year, before I really had begun to dig into the gardening scene, I felt like I might have been on the fringe of something big as I started to volunteer for a middle school gardening program. Now, as I have the amazing opportunity to research teaching gardens as part of my Masters program in Nutrition, I am amazed to see how much research is being committed to understanding and evaluating these programs!

Just this past week, the program “LA Sprouts” was highlighted in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study assessed some markers related to better eating habits, such as preferences for fruits and vegetables or changes in beliefs about cooking and ability to prepare fruit and vegetable foods at home. The study was conducted among fourth- and fifth-graders in a Latino community, who indeed reported an increased preference for vegetables as a result of the 12-week program. Researchers have argued that an increased preference for vegetables can suggest an increased likelihood that children will consume vegetables, but this can’t be taken as definitive proof that kids are definitely eating more of these foods. An interesting finding from a previous paper about LA sprouts, however, was that this same program resulted in a slower amount of weight gain in overweight children than those in a control group, so there is some  promise for these programs to either improve what kids eat or get them to be more active.

Advertisements

Social Networking for the Garden

Got a great deal on seeds and bought way more than you needed? Have a few extra tomato starters and no where to put them?

These are a few examples of the kinds of posts I have seen in the last month or so on a network I subscribe to called Front Porch Forum, or FPF for short. FPF was developed here in Vermont in order to help people stay in touch with their immediate neighborhood.

My community posts anything on here from yard sales to school district meetings, but I have been especially pleased by the notices from neighbors who have a few extra plants they want to give away or sell at a very reasonable price.

Free mint! (To be transplanted into a real pot very soon…)

Just this week, a neighbor posted about his overgrown mint that he was pulling up from his yard and was hoping others might like to transplant. I hopped on this chance to get some free, gorgeous, towering mint. One man’s trash (prolific mint weeds) is another man’s treasure (ingredients for delicious minty sun tea, anyone?). Maybe Front Porch Forum isn’t the hip thing in your neighborhood, but with all of the social networking we now have at our fingertips, there is likely to be a website/newsletter/etc. to post about gardening needs. So, next time you considering purchasing the value-pack of of seed potatoes or are landscaping and pulling up some unwanted plants, check to see if someone else might split the cost or take what you don’t need. Even if you don’t have a gardening partner nearby, a little networking might allow you to help someone else in the community.

Anyone else have  a good networking tool in your area that you use to share garden news and needs?

Bikington Vermont

As community gardeners get to work with starting their gardens, I still see some empty plots that have yet to be rented next door to mine.  This is surprising to me, since I have heard Burlington has such a big demand for community gardening spaces. I guess this demand does indeed exist, but it is a demand for more of the smaller garden plots that are sprinkled between all of the housing close to downtown. My community garden is a little bit further from downtown, and this extra travel time is likely a deterrent for those who lack their own transportation.

However, with this being such a bike-friendly city, it’s refreshing to see that many gardeners choose to bike to the garden. Even for those that need to carry garden tools or plant starters, there are some great basket carts such as this one:

I’m very impressed with this trailer… notice the grooves in the plywood designed for oversized garden tools!

 

While some might see the extra traveling as a barrier to starting a community garden plot, hopefully the growing accessibility of bike lanes, bike paths, and affordable bikes, will encourage more people to get pedaling and get growing.

 

To Garden or Not to Garden

I am counting down the days until I can make it back over to my community garden and check on the next round of seeds I planted this past weekend. The mustard and radish sprouts were already up when I last visited, and it will only be a matter of weeks before I can eat baby salad greens to my heart’s content!

My boyfriend, my roommate, and I rented two full size garden plots to share, and it’s been so helpful to pool everyone’s garden knowledge as we plan where to plant what and when. When the three of us put our heads together, I expect there will be plenty of food to eat and then some to put up for the winter. Now that I think about it, ever since I started gardening away from home, I have teamed up with at least one other person. To me, this has felt like a better guarantee that something will definitely grow.

But do you necessarily need to work with garden gurus who have all the know-how about gardening? Of course not. I attended a meet up on gardening yesterday where we talked about the barriers people may face in getting started, and many people identified the fear of failure. Who wants to spend lots of time planting seeds and weeding if things might not grow well? Like any skill, gardening may take some trial and error, but the error is how we’ll learn. And chances are that something will grow. We could think about this in terms of costs and benefits and the break-even point of investing in the garden, but maybe the first thing we can share with potential new gardeners is to enjoy the process rather than worrying too much about the results.

What Nutritionists Can Learn from the Garden

For all the nutrition-minded science geeks out there who want to understand the health benefits of community and school gardens: it isn’t just about the fruits and vegetables.

I started this blog just a few months ago as a way to track my experiences spending time in the land of community gardening. As a graduate student in nutrition research, I’m a big fan of learning about any programming designed to encourage better eating habits or better food environments – particularly when it involves increasing fruit and vegetable consumption.

As a way to reflect on what I have been talking about on KidsDigGardening, I copied and pasted all of my posts into a word cloud program. The words you see here in the largest font are those I use most frequently, which should give you an idea of what I have been emphasizing about the gardening environment with this blog:

KDG through the lens of Wordle.com…

So what have been the hot topics? The words garden, kids, school, and food have come up a lot, as has the word community. However, being nutrition-minded, it’s interesting to note some words that are not as prominent as they could have been: fruit, vegetable, produce, nutrition… Here and there while writing this blog, I have touched upon the importance of getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, such as when I shared this very entertaining video that models vegetable consumption, as well as the functionality of home versus community gardens in getting adults to eat more fruits and vegetables.

However, you may have realized – like I have – that the health benefits of gardening are greater than simply providing fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the words that has been most important and repetitive in this blog is community. In my time spent with the local organization Friends of Burlington Gardens, I have learned that garden programming is not only largely supported by volunteers… but that the volunteers also become those who benefit from the program.

Consider how the stakeholders affecting our larger food environment may clash: the food industry’s interest in what foods we purchase is largely driven by profit and sustaining business by selling more product, while parents’ interests are at least partially driven by what they deem healthy for their children. Put simply, parents’ and industry’s interests don’t always align. For instance, consider the impact of food marketing on your food choices. Even I have ranted before about how packaging and familiar spokes characters could influence what kids eat – for better or worse (‘Cap’n Carrots’ anyone?).

However, what I take away from my blog’s emphasis on community is that, when we work on a smaller scale within our own communities, the number of stakeholders decreases. Consequently, there will likely be less conflicting interests, and so these smaller food systems can be a win-win for everyone. In the case of the small-scale garden programs within a single town like Burlington, each volunteer hour or seed sown can be a direct benefit recycled back to that same community.

WP 5/8