Home gardens improve household food security and economic welfare. They are also a cheap source of nutrient-rich foods .
In our study, the outcome variable related to vegetable consumption was strongly associated with nutrition knowledge and gardening practice (changes on the demand side). Both were mediated by dietary self-efficacy and gardener’s motivation.
We know that schools that provide regular garden curricula have children who eat more fruits and vegetables (Wells 2017), but how do gardens prompt healthy eating habits at home? Several studies have found that home garden interventions that include hands-on nutrition education are associated with higher household consumption of leafy vegetables, a more nutritious diet overall, and lower fast food intake (Olney et al. 2009, 2013; Schreinemachers et al. 2016).
One such study in Bangladesh (Bushamuka et al. 2005) used a garden-based integrated intervention to target women in poor rural households with a minimum of one acre of land. The intervention was designed to improve dietary and nutritional outcomes, and the research team found that it significantly increased vegetable consumption in households, even ten years after the end of the project. Mediating factors that influenced eating behavior were identified through correlation analysis, and the researchers found that outcome expectancies related to vegetable consumption had strong positive correlations with dietary self-efficacy, gardening knowledge, and food neophobia, indicating that the intervention successfully affected these important factors.
Garden-based nutrition education prompts healthier eating habits, but the impact is limited if school gardens are not linked to curriculum. A 2018 study of FoodCorps found that schools with regular, high-quality opportunities for hands-on gardening and nutrition learning prompted students to consume more fruits and vegetables in the cafeteria, but those gains were erased when schools hosted near-constant fundraisers with cookies and cupcakes, or when the cafeteria offered a la carte processed junk food.
When designing a garden plot, keep the work triangle in mind — it is best to stagger crops so that it’s easy to get between them for planting, weeding and harvesting. Also, avoid putting any vegetable garden in low-lying areas; plant roots need air to grow. Also, test soil for lead before growing any edibles.
Do a Plan
The best way to get students excited about eating more fruits and vegetables is by demonstrating the process of growing and preparing their own food. That is why school garden programs that focus on skill development are so successful. A recent study of FoodCorps schools found that those who receive regular garden lessons eat three times more fruits and vegetables at lunch than do their peers without the program, even when the cafeteria serves mostly fresh foods.
In fact, gardening activity significantly increased nutrition knowledge, outcome expectancies, and self-efficacy in this group of children. These mediating variables then directly influenced vegetable consumption frequency .
Plan your kitchen garden plot to include a mix of fruit, herbs, and vegetables and consider mixing in perennials. This adds beauty, and pollinator-attracting flowers will help to increase your crop yield. Also, make sure to have access pathways between plantings so that you can reach crops for weeding and harvesting.
Don’t Overdo It
The kitchen garden should be easily accessible to allow for weeding, watering and harvesting. It should not be isolated but be integrated into the rest of the garden, which is why it was a feature at Monticello and Mount Vernon where it was often part of a ferme ornee – a farm-like garden.
For crops to grow well they need morning sun and six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day. It is also important to include bee-friendly plantings as they are vital for insect pollination and a higher fruit and vegetable yield.
A kitchen garden is a great way to introduce children to unfamiliar foods, teach them basic cooking techniques and cultivate a love of healthy eating. It also teaches the value of good health and the importance of the connection between food and the environment.