In the Garden:
Lower South
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Fresh produce from our gardens is rich with vitamins, nutrients and a multitude of health promoting compounds.

Gardening for Healthy Living

Vegetable gardening has been growing in popularity quite rapidly these past few years. Recent conversations with dozens of new and "wanna be" gardeners have pointed to the following reasons for this renewed interest: the economic downturn and its effect on our family budgets, a generation of young married folks who grew up only peripherally acquainted with gardening who want their children to experience it, and a steadily growing interest in healthy eating and lifestyles.

If you'll allow me, I'd like to get personal and philosophical this time about the value of gardening to our health and well being. I know all of you who garden know the value gardening adds to our peace of mind, sense of beauty and sense of well being. Gardening is therapy, no doubt about it.

What I have in mind though is the value of gardening to our physical health. I've often joked with gardening audiences that if you are a good gardener, gardening is good exercise, and if you are bad gardener it is GREAT exercise! You know- more weeding, replanting, etc. The physical activity of gardening is a perfect prescription for the sedentary lifestyles we have come to adopt as the couch, cubicle and computer screen take up a growing percentage of our time.

Studies show that while strenuous activities have their advantages, just getting up and moving around in a variety of ways and using a variety of muscles for extended periods of time makes a dramatic difference in our long term health. So for what the doctor ordered, I give you gardening!

In addition to sedentary lifestyles, our American diets are a major contributing factor in some of the most deadly and debilitating diseases we now face. Diabetes and heart disease are two prime examples. It is astounding to see the statistics on the rise of these ailments and more importantly on their skyrocketing increase in children and teens.

It is no news that researchers continue to turn out study after study on the value of fruits and vegetables in promoting good health. Fresh produce is especially rich in vitamins, nutrients and a host of compounds that do everything from helping to fight cancer, reduce heart disease, avoid obesity, improve brain function and more!

Your home vegetable garden is the source of a healthy lifestyle. Fresh vegetables are not that difficult to grow, and here in the lower south we can be eating fresh out of the garden almost 12 months out of the year. With a little extra attention to both the way we plan our plantings and plan our meals we can significantly increase our consumption of tasty fresh produce and save money in the process.

Poor dietary habits cross socioeconomic lines. But in many of the poorest neighborhoods fresh produce is not readily available. An increase in home gardening from the suburbs to the inner city would make a dramatic difference in the way we as Americans look and feel in years to come. Master Gardeners and, in fact, any experienced gardener can make a difference in their community by sharing their love for gardening and the know how to help a neighbor get off to a good start.

This year we purchased a special machine to blend fruits or vegetables into everything from soups to smoothies. This has perhaps doubled our family's consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. We are always trying out a new way to prepare a vegetable. By the way, have you tried brushing olive oil on small okra pods, sprinkling with a little sea salt and grilling them?

Each year we grow a few "new-to-us" things in the garden, new greens for fresh salad mixes or new ethnic vegetables to try out. It has made a world of difference in how we eat.

Add to this the opportunities for preserving our garden bounty. I'll grant you that fresh is better than frozen or canned but both are better than none at all. Along with the rise in gardening has followed a rise in interest in how to freeze, dry, waterbath and can what we grow. My freezer is about to get stocked with a lot of whole tomatoes for soups and various other dishes we'll make later on when tomatoes are no longer in season.

I'll end my musings with an appeal to look at your garden as an investment in your health. It truly is a health club for physical activity and a pharmacy for disease prevention!


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