There are loads of great reasons to head outside and start digging. Research has shown that, in addition to reaping wonderfully tasty fresh food, gardeners enjoy many other benefits from the time they spend tending their plants, no matter how big or small their garden.
Planting and maintaining a garden can provide moderate cardiovascular exercise. According to the CDC, when you spend 45 minutes gardening, you can burn as many calories as you would from engaging in 30 minutes of aerobics. Gardeners have significantly lower body mass indexes (BMI) and are far less likely to be overweight, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. So, if you're someone who doesn't get enough exercise and you want to see a tangible result from the effort you expend to stay in shape, gardening could be just the thing for you.
Many people find the benefits of gardening spill over into other areas of their lives as well. It can reduce stress and helps a lot of people sleep better. Many gardeners also report lower blood pressure levels and much less muscle tension.
OBSERVER Photo by Diane R. Chodan
From left: Chloe Tytka and Sophia Hamlet stop and smell the flowers.
In addition to the physical benefits, there's the pure joy of watching your plants grow. Gardening is a peaceful way to spend time and it can give you a true sense of purpose. Gardening often helps elevate people's moods. The act of caring for and harvesting the fruits, and vegetables, of your labor can bring you great happiness. Plus it's just plain fun to get down and dirty.
Gardening is also a great way to get your whole family doing something meaningful together. In addition to learning how to work cooperatively, it helps children understand where their food comes from. Not only will they learn the basic science of plant growth, they can also learn important life lessons from planting and watching their gardens grow. Gardening teaches lessons in responsibility, nurturing, and patience. They can even learn a bit about loss at the end of the growing season when their plants begin to die. But most importantly, they will learn how hard work can pay off and will likely come to appreciate what they eat and the effort it takes to produce it.
If you garden with children, point out how much better produce tastes when it's served fresh from the garden. Gardening can help expand kids' palates. Children who garden are far more likely to try foods they may have balked at tasting if they had not grown the food themselves.
If you're looking for great tasting yet healthy recipes for the foods you grow, take a look at the recipe finder tool on the USDA website at recipefinder.nal.usda.gov/ or at the recipes available on the ChooseMyPlate.gov website.
Did you know that if you are struggling to put food on the table you may be eligible for NYS Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program? SNAP helps low-income people buy nutritious food. It's well known that a healthy diet can reduce health care costs, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture is putting healthy food within everyone's reach. To find out more about SNAP benefit eligibility call 1-800-342-3009 or apply online for SNAP benefits at www.mybenefits.ny.gov/. SNAP benefits can also be used to purchase food producing seeds and plants.
It's just so satisfying to sit down to a meal that includes something you grew yourself. Plus, when you grow it yourself, you'll be certain that what you're putting in your mouth is fresh, safe to eat and loaded with health benefits.
Patty Hammond leads Family and Consumer Science Programs at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Chautauqua County. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org