AJPH Article Highlights Importance of Social Involvement, Community Gardens in Fruit & Vegetable Consumption

In the August 2011 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, a group of researchers published their findings from a large survey they conducted on community gardens and fruit and vegetable consumption in Denver, CO.  They were trying to find out if there was a relationship between urban gardening, attachment to and interaction with one’s neighborhood, and consumption of healthy foods.

So what did they find?  You guessed it – they discovered a very significant positive relationship between neighborhood aesthetics, community garden participation, and social involvement with higher fruit and vegetable intake and good health behaviors such as exercising.  Compared to nongarderners, who only consumed an average of 3.7 fruits and vegetables per day, community gardeners and home gardeners consumed them 5.7 and 4.6 times, respectively.  The authors emphasized that having pride and investment in one’s neighborhood leads to social involvement in things like urban gardens, and that social structures and processes are important in explaining health behaviors and health status.  In other words, we are products of our environment.  Moreover, those who are involved in gardens have “access to social resources and opportunities for social learning” which helps define meaningful societal roles and feelings of inclusion and security.  They concluded that community gardens represent a “viable strategy to tap into these social processes by fostering connections among community members and, importantly, connections between people and food-producing landscapes.”

The impetus for this study came from recent observations and mounting concern about the growing disconnect between people and the places where their food is grown, as well as the common knowledge that a healthy diet is one the most “modifiable risk factors for chronic disease.”  If we can support the creation of gardens and weave them throughout the fabric of communities, they can “promote a tacit and more holistic understanding of food-related behaviors” among its members and potentially help improve peoples’ diets and health.  In a country where hunger and food insecurity is a rapidly growing problem and obesity and diabetes as food-related ailments represent a large portion of our chronic diseases, the importance of community gardens cannot be underestimated.

These findings directly support the work that Rainier Valley Eats! has been undertaking.  RaVE’s “Grow, Share, Eat” concept nurtures community through a shared food experience and takes a holistic approach to achieve real change.  Through our many partnerships with “farm to table’ programs, cooking and gardening course offerings, financial support of nutritional education and gardening for kids and families, and support of food banks and projects for low-income and culturally diverse people, we cultivate connections and nurture ourselves, each other, and the environment.

As one gardener from the AJPH study put it:

“I feel like I’m a co-creator in the world with my garden, helping bring forth life, nurturance. It nurtures me as much as I nurture it. And it gives me hope.”