Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture Factsheet - Food Security
Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture Public Health and Food Security Anne C. Bellows, PhD Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Katherine Brown, PhD Southside Community Land Trust; Jac Smit, MCP The Urban Agriculture Network Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), North American Initiative on Urban Agriculture Committee This handout summarizes a fully cited article that is available for free from the CFSC, www.foodsecurity.org.Health professionals increasingly recognize the value Taste and the tactile experience of eating freshlyof farm- and garden-scale urban agriculture for picked produce have been identified as variablesnutritional health, personal wellness, urban greening, associated with increasing fruit and vegetableand an engaged and active citizenry. Growing food and consumption. These are also the identified motivationalnon-food crops in and near town and cities contributes factors for gardening and buying from local farmto healthy communities by engaging residents in work producers. Gardeners additionally save money andand pleasure that improves the well-being of grow regional and cultural favorites that they might notthemselves and the broader public. be able to find in the markets.The good news is that urban gardening and farming areexperiencing a renaissance in North America.Significant amounts of food are cultivated byentrepreneurial producers, community gardeners,backyard gardeners, and even food banks, in vacantlots, parks, greenhouses, roof tops, balconies, windowsills, ponds, rivers, and estuaries. The potential toexpand urban production is enormous. One third of the2 million farms in the United States are located within PIC QUOTEmetropolitan areas, and produce 35 percent of U.S.vegetables, fruit, livestock, poultry, and fish.NutritionUrban gardens and farms produce surprising amountsof fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, and meat. In a 130-day temperate growing season, a 10’x10’ meter plot Exercisecan provide most of a 4-person household’s total Gardening and food production is good exercise,yearly vegetable needs, including much of the although its value is often discounted. When self-household’s nutritional requirements for vitamins A, C, identified as exercise by research subjects or isolatedand B complex and iron. by researchers, gardening has been connected to reducing risks of obesity (children and adults),Community and residential gardening, as well as coronary heart disease (for women and for men,small-scale farming promote nutrition and free notably menopausal women and elderly males),household income for non-garden foods and other glycemic control and diabetes (adults, elderly men,needs. Approximately every $1 invested in a Mexicans and Mexican-Americans), and occupationalcommunity garden plot yields $6 worth of vegetables. injuries (railway workers).Cooperative buying partnerships with urban areafarmers, called Community Supported Agriculture Research shows that gardening is a preferred form of(CSA), maximizes food quality at stabilized prices. exercise across age, gender, and ethnicity. Overall,Household garden donations and farm gleaning older persons do more gardening than younger ones.projects increase emergency food providers’ access to Even moderate forms of garden exercise increasetheir scarcest commodity, fresh fruits and vegetables. muscle strength and endurance in activity-reduced persons including pregnant women, cancer survivors,Practical experience with food – cultivation, and those generally sedentary. Men identify gardeningharvesting, purchasing in stores and farm stands, as “exercise” more often than did women thoughcooking – influences dietary knowledge and practice. women and men report similar amounts of timeWhether out of pride, pleasure, or nutritional gardening. Women may associate gardening withsophistication, gardeners, including youth, eat what gendered household food-related chores rather thanthey grow and what they know. exercise.
Mental Health and lifetime hobby that provides exercise, mentalWorking with plants and being in the outdoors trigger stimulation, and social interactions. Schools andboth illness prevention and healing responses. colleges often donate a portion of their produce to theCultivation activities trigger both illness emergency food system. Farm-to-school and farm-to–prevention and healing responses. Health college programs establish market relationships withprofessionals use plants and gardening materials to local farms to secure the freshest and in season fruits,help patients of diverse ages with mental illness vegetables, and other products for consumption inimprove social skills, self-esteem, and use of leisure school and college cafeterias.time. Horticulture therapy promotes plant-human Urban area gardens and farms advance the health of therelationships to induce relaxation and to reduce stress, environment as well as that of human residents.fear and anger, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Cultivation improves air quality and increasesCommunity Food Security biodiversity. Rooted plants stabilize the ground and reduce soil erosion. Cared-for soils absorb rainfall that Community food security (CFS) exists when all then does not run over exposed, compacted dirt and community residents obtain a safe, culturally pavement absorbing toxic debris and dumping it into acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a storm drains. Urban compost systems can transform sustainable food system that maximizes community much of a city’s organic waste for beneficial re-use. self-reliance and social justice. Hamm & Bellows 2003 J Nutr Ed & Beh 35(1):37-43 Planning for Urban Health Risks Particularly in older cities, it is crucial to test soils forUrban agriculture provides a buffer both against local lead before growing food or even before allowingeconomic insecurity as well as periods of war and small children to enter and play in the garden spaces.conflict that can disrupt normal food flows. Gardeners Appropriate gardening practices reduce risk.share food with friends, families, and neighbors as wellas members of their community in need, for example, Recommendations for Health Professionals Health professionals can increase the positive benefitsthrough the “plant-a-row” project that encourages of urban agriculture in many ways. For example:gardeners to set a specific space aside for donations. • Cultivate a Healing Garden on idle land at yourStates and regions have instituted “buy local” policies health department or facility.to support local farmers and improve food markets. • Encourage patients/clients to garden for exercise,Town and city farmers markets now compete for nutrition, and physical and mental relaxation.farmer participants. CSAs link buyer collectives with • Encourage patients/clients to shop at farmers’local farmers. Federal programs have begun to support markets, and where available, a local CSA.access to directly marketed fresh produce for low • Introduce the subject of public health and urbanincome groups and seniors. Through donations and agriculture in your professional associations.gleaning opportunities, urban area farmers contributeto urban food banks and emergency food assistance • Work with local planners and policy makers toprograms. establish urban agriculture opportunities. • Encourage State health departments to promoteBuilding Safe, Healthy and Green Environments farmers’ markets and CSAs for WIC and seniors.Community and educational lands dedicated to food • Encourage farmers markets and CSAs to expand toproduction encourage participation in the vigor of a include WIC recipients, other low income, and seniors.positive urban environment. Working collaborativelyto “green” a neighborhood creates safe and pleasant • Provide support for community-based gardeningneighborhoods that decrease air pollution, reduce crime projects.and enhance civic life. Social engagement is positively • Support the national farm-to-school movement.correlated with personal attention to health care and • Support a Garden at every school" program like thewellness. successful model in California.School-based urban agriculture programs teach young • Envision and help plan a farm-to-hospital program.people about local and healthy food. Evidence points to • Join the Community Food Security Coalition anda relationships between familiarity with foods and their bring your expertise to our table.consumption. This is especially important with regardto fruits and vegetables as a strategy to reduce obesity For more information contact: Community Foodand chronic diseases. Youth gain gardening as a skill Security Coalition; PO Box 209; Venice CA 90294; www.foodsecurity.org; 310-822-5410