Heidi Godman

Backyard gardening: grow your own food, improve your health

When it comes to gardening, I am all thumbs, and not the green kind. But a new book from First Lady Michelle Obama is inspiring me to try my hand (thumbs and all) at backyard vegetable gardening. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America details the challenges and joys the First Lady has experienced with her now-famous White House garden. It also looks at community gardens all across America, and how they can improve health.

The book contains helpful hints for starting your own vegetable garden, as well as a school or community garden. Along with the how-to information about seed spacing, irrigation, soil types, and the right time to plant various vegetables, American Grown also discusses Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. How does that fit into a book on gardening? In addition to getting more physical activity, so the thinking goes, eating more food harvested from the ground and less from packages can help kids — and adults — become healthy or stay that way.

“Backyard gardening can inspire you to take an interest in the origins of your food and make better choices about what you put on your plate,” says Dr. Helen Delichatsios, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. “When you grow your own food, you savor it more because of the effort it took to get to the table.”

Growing your own food has many health benefits:

  • It helps you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • You decide what kinds of fertilizers and pesticides come in contact with your food.
  • It lets you control when to harvest your food. Vegetables that ripen in the garden have more nutrients than some store-bought vegetables that must be picked early.

Growing your own food isn’t rocket science. “Growing food is very simple,” says Kathleen Frith, managing director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHGE) at Harvard Medical School. “It takes a little time, but things like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers — basic kitchen crops — are very forgiving. Really, anyone can learn to grow food pretty easily.”

Frith proved that when she spearheaded the Harvard Community Garden, a large collaborative project in Harvard Square. Students tend the garden and grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. The garden’s bounty is donated to food shelters or featured on the menu at the Harvard Faculty Club. You can see photos of the garden here.

If you’re interested in growing food in your backyard, Frith offers these tips:

  • Start small and plant things you’d really like to eat.
  • Pick a spot with at least 6 hours of good daytime light and access to water.
  • Use contaminant-free soil.
  • Consider using a raised garden bed, which allows you to control the soil and nutrient blend.
  • Talk to farmers or other backyard gardeners in your area to get a sense of what grows well in your region and when.

If you don’t have space for a garden at home, a community garden is another option. You can find one in your community through the American Community Gardening Association.

“You will be amazed by how much fun gardening can be, and the pride you take in sharing healthy food nurtured by your own efforts,” says Acacia Matheson, the CHGE’s assistant director of communications. “We hope that people will develop more interest in learning about their food choices, and how to prepare fresh, healthy food at home.”

Be patient as you cultivate your relationship with your garden and the Earth. Before long, you’ll reap the benefits. You may even see a little tinge of green on those thumbs.

Related Information: Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy

Comments:

  1. Seal

    Growing your own food isn’t rocket science. “Growing food is very simple,” says Kathleen Frith, managing director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment (CHGE) at Harvard Medical School. “It takes a little time, but things like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers — basic kitchen crops — are very forgiving. Really, anyone can learn to grow food pretty easily.” i agree with tihs.

  2. teguh

    backyard gardening is my hobby, it’s healthy activity and healthy food, good article.

  3. Rebecca

    I have a little garden at my home’s backyard and i have grown so many veg. this is awesome when we pluck veg from our own garden and cook them…

  4. Bill Worley

    Good post!! Thanks Heidi.
    Gardening offers many opportunities to improve one’s life by providing outdoor exercise, and excellent nutrition with home-grown fruits and vegetables.
    By the way, I am seeking monthly list of gardening tips and “to dos” that are appropriate for that time of year including what to plan, plant, prune, maintain, plus weed and pest control and fun projects. Any help will be highly appreciated!
    Bill Worley

  5. Paul F Davis

    Thank you for your commitment to improve public health and help us become more knowledgeable.

  6. Cadrian

    Polyunsaturated fats are the good guys; these fats help lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Yes, you will lose weight after a while, but the body starts to slow down in order to conserve calories. Start your lunch or dinner with a salad or vegetable soup and then protein followed by carbohydrate. To prevent stress and what it can do to your diet, try exercising every day. The question is not whether it is realizable because I know it is quite achievable but, how safe and healthy is the program? You can loose all that weight in a glance today but the danger is that you can gain it back and even more weight later.

  7. John

    i have a raised bed garden and this year was the first in many years now for an amazing tomato harvest. One thing to consider if you have to use pots though….I tried for a couple of years to grow the tomato’s in 15 gallon plastic containers that I’d saved from some trees i purchased. No matter the soil or water provided the plants always wound up very anemic. Turns out the black containers were raising the temperature too much for the tomato’s sensitive root system….so something to think about.
    One more thing i find in growing my own is that I find the hand watering a very calming therapuetic time in my morning!

  8. thanh

    This is an important consideration for those of us who love to read about a variety of topics! Thank you for the information.

  9. beptucaocap.vn

    Growing your own vegetables at your backyard definitely is a practical thing to do but also healthy.

  10. Anonymous

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  11. chloe

    I always like the idea of backyard gardening:) Not only you got a chance to grow your own foods, but also spending quality time with your children right at the backard!

    Dr Chloe Lenon

  12. seoacer

    Grow your own food without adding chemical agents, is more healthy.Thanks for the information.

  13. Nutrition Principles

    We’ve been growing a garden for years, but recently we haven’t had the space and we’ve seen a huge different in the taste of our food. There’s nothing like home grown food from your own garden!

  14. Mankepe

    I love it, I also started mine in January 2012, it was small but its growing Spinach, peppers, tomatooes,kale. I yet to try pumpkin and potatoes

  15. Ern

    Growing your own vegetables at your backyard definitely is a practical thing to do but also healthy. There have been a lot of buzz going on about organic foods because it has no fertilizer in it. This is the same way the First Lady is doing. I think everybody should emulate her for doing this. :-)

    Ern

  16. T. Renault

    My father was always the gardener in my family. Myself personally have always had a hard time getting things to grow . With that said I, will consider some of the tips in this post and try again.

    Thanks for the information.

  17. Anonymous

    This is an important consideration for those of us who love to read about a variety of topics! Thank you for the information.

  18. prabhu

    its a grt infomration and vegetables which grown in backyard are 100% orgain and no chemicals are use to grown and it very heatly than other types of grown vegetable