One of the best ways to take part in sustainable food production is to grow your own produce. Whether you do so in your own back yard or you take part in a community scheme, growing your own fruit and vegetables doesn’t just offer a range of environmental benefits, but it can enhance your health as well. For instance, cutting food miles and opting for more environmentally friendly ways to fertilize and protect what you grow benefits the atmosphere, local ecosystems and your well-being. However, there are various other ways in which getting involved in growing your own can promote your physical and mental wellness.

Increasing fruit and vegetable intakes

Only 40% of Canadians manage to consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily1. While there are a range of barriers to eating more fruit and vegetables, cost is a commonly cited reason for why people struggle to eat more. However, growing your own produce is an easy way to reduce the cost of fruit and vegetable consumption, allowing more people to meet the recommended targets2. As fruit and vegetables are an important source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, increased consumption of these items helps to reduce the risk of a range of chronic health problems.

More nutritious produce

Not only can you access fruit and vegetables more easily when growing your own produce, but they are better for you. Although there is some debate as to whether organic produce offers a superior nutritional content, there is evidence that when using natural fertilizers and avoiding pesticides fruit and vegetables contain more of certain micronutrients, including vitamin C3. However, this isn’t the only way in which growing your own organic fruit and vegetables helps to boost your nutrient intake. When produce is picked so close to home, this helps to preserve its nutrient composition, which otherwise deplete when transported over hundreds or thousands of miles4. Therefore freshly picked food not only tastes better, but it is more nutritious too.

Developing a healthy relationship with food

When you have put time and effort into growing fruit and vegetables, you are not only more inclined to use the produce in cooking, but it can change the way you cook, spurring you on to make other choices that are not only healthy, but good for the environment too5. For instance, reducing your meat intake and replacing it partly with pulses, reduces the amount of fat you eat and increases your intake of heart-friendly soluble fibre. By making this choice you also help to reduce energy and water consumption, as growing sources of vegetable protein is much more efficient than farming livestock, helping the planet. Teaching others to grow, cook and eat well allows them to also benefit from a healthy relationship with food, and there’s no better time to start than early, so involve your kids when possible.

Community involvement enhances mental wellness

When you take part in a community garden initiative, or indeed start your own, it benefits the community in a number of ways, but it also benefits you as well. For example, community gardens are a way to revitalize areas and prevent negative features such as vandalism and graffiti, making these spaces more pleasant for everyone living locally. These gardens are also a way to get the community together, helping people of different ages and backgrounds to interact, fostering community spirit and a sense of belonging6. Feeling part of a community can do wonders for your mental well-being and taking part in positive activities within the community can serve as a distraction from destructive habits. This is particularly beneficial if you have a history of mental health problems and problems with substance abuse, which are far more common than many people realize7.

Benefit from being outdoors

Having a patch of land to tend to during the week is the ideal way to enjoy the health benefits of spending more time outside. This is another way that you can enhance your mental health, as being around nature and getting exposure to natural light can help to relax you and boost your mood8. Getting out in the sun is particularly helpful, as it allows you to increase your production of vitamin D, which may help to prevent or manage depressive symptoms9. Time spent gardening is also known for its therapeutic properties, not only helping you to deal with a difficult diagnosis, but also offering relief from certain symptoms associated with ill-health, such as pain and difficulty with movement.

References:

1 “Fruit and vegetable consumption, 2012,” Statistics Canada, accessed July 4 2014

2 “Overcoming barriers to eating vegetables and fruit,” Region of Peel, accessed July 4 2014

3 “Organic fruit has more vitamin C, study finds,” National Post, accessed July 4 2014

4 “Eating close to home: harvesting the benefits of locally grown food,” Womens Health Matters, accessed July 4 2014

5 “Green things growing: building our relationship with food,” Meghan Telpner, accessed July 4 2014

6 “Why should we start a community garden?” City of Toronto, accessed July 4 2014

7 “Managing substance abuse and difficulties with food,” Bulimia, accessed July 4 2014

8 “Health benefits of being outside,” Canadian Health & Lifestyle, accessed July 4 2014

9 “Vitamin D deficiency linked to depression, pain, inflammatory bowel disease and breast cancer,” West Edmonton Family Chiropractic Studio, accessed July 4 2014