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

Does Gardening Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intake?

Do gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than their counterparts? The research says, “Yes!” but notes certain types of gardeners consume more than others.

Jackie Brinkman posted on the UCDenver Blog about a research study published in the August 2011 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. Brinkman summarizes the research findings:

“[This] research has shown that places such as community gardens matter in terms of neighborhood quality and people’s health…More than 50% of gardeners meet national guidelines for fruit and vegetable intake compared to 25% of non-gardeners.”

This research was very intriguing to me, and so I took a look at the original article to learn more. As a blogger attempting to summarize key points from this study, Brinkman’s post is a fairly accurate portrayal of the original research. However, Brinkman does not clarify what kinds of gardeners appear to benefit most from gardening. The researcher’s results showed the 56% of community gardeners met the national recommendations of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but – contrary to Brinkman’s post – less than 50% of home gardeners met this mark. Only 37% of home gardeners and 25% of nongardeners reported consuming the recommended five or more servings.

Scholars Fineburg and Rowe write in their commentary how those of us who relay information to the public can ensure we effectively communicate the story. Whether we are bloggers or university researchers, our role as conveyors of health information must be exercised with caution to ensure information is accurate and accessible to the audience. One of the guidelines Fineburg and Rowe suggest all messengers follow is to avoid simplifying the facts. In this case, blogger Brinkman has shared that gardeners consume more fruits and vegetables, but she fails to note what kind of gardeners are benefitting most: those who are growing in community plots.

Also consider the context of this study: because this study was conducted among urban adults, we cannot yet say what role the community garden may have for children, or how health habits may differ for those in rural communities.

So what should we take away from this study? While continued research will need to affirm these findings, this study shows that, while gardening in any form is associated with eating more fruits and veggies, our dietary habits might be more positively influenced through the connections we build within our communities. Find a neighbor and get digging!

WP 3/1

Planting a Blog that Blooms…

I am new to the blog world, so it’s time to take note from those that have come before… I am choosing to write about children and gardening from an uncommon angle: personal reflection of my time spent observing and volunteering with a local outreach organization. I hope my unique angle will give me an edge, but it will also require me to clearly establish the purpose of this blog for you, the reader.

First off, how do I attract visitors to this site visually? During my search of other gardening blogs, I came across one with a hideously memorable WordPress template, which I immediately recognized from when I had searched for my own blog background. This blog was unattractive to me for two reasons: 1) I know the pattern was slapped onto the blog form the WordPress templates with minimal thought put into site appearance, and 2) the pattern is busy and distracting, which makes the blog look disorganized.

For my own blog, I plan to gather some gardening or outdoors pictures of my own which you now see as the background of my site. One of the most attractive blog sites I found from dirtgarden used a picture of daisies as a header against a black backdrop for the home page, with text floating on top. These are the kinds of details that intrigue me to linger long enough to read some of the blog content.

The pictures I place on this blog can play a big role in describing the function of my site. My first thought for pictures is to provide images of growing gardens or maybe children’s little fingers in the dirt. In many cases, similar blogs may provide these kinds of images, but they usually avoid posting their own faces in the garden. Perhaps bloggers avoid posting images of themselves so the author appears more distanced from the subject and thus more objective and unbiased. But hold on: my blog is about participating and not just observing, and I know I influence my environment. That’s fine! I plan to include images of myself among the pictures I post because, while this blog is an exploration of children’s gardening, it is contaminated by the observer – ME!

The purpose of this blog is not to provide marketing strategies for blogging, but a thoughtful blog is a wise investment. I hope my observations and lessons learned from the blogosphere serve us all well in our missions to be heard.

WP 2/23