A new study documents the educational, health, nutritional and other benefits of urban agriculture. (Pixabay)
DENVER — Back to school for some can mean planting one last crop of vegetables in school gardens before the first frost arrives – and boosting student health, according to a Johns Hopkins University study on the benefits of urban agriculture.
Anne Palmer, report co-author and program director for the Food Communities and Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins said gardening helps kids learn where their food comes from and promotes environmental stewardship.
“I think that experience can be a really important piece of their education,” Palmer said. “There is a fair amount of evidence that when kids grow their own food, they’re much more likely to try different foods, and that can lead to some healthier eating patterns overall.”
Especially for kids living in urban areas, the process of watching worms in the soil, seeds sprouting into flowers visited by butterflies, and eventually harvesting food they can taste, makes life cycles real to students in ways that are hard to achieve in a classroom, Palmer said.
The report also suggested that access to gardens and other green spaces can lead to better mental health outcomes for kids and adults. Palmer said when vacant lots are converted into community gardens, it changes how people feel about their neighborhood – and their neighbors – and has been linked to reduced crime.
“I encourage people to put a seed in the ground. Growing our own food engages us in the world in a way that nothing else does,” Palmer urged. “And I think we should not discount the importance of staying connected to our natural world.”
She acknowledged that urban agriculture alone won’t solve all the challenges facing the nation’s food system. But the report concluded that it can help reduce food insecurity, get fresh produce into low-income neighborhoods, minimize pesticides and limit pollution from transporting food across the country.
However, Palmer says it will require long-term support from local, state and federal governments.