In a previous article, we touched on the health concerns many food-insecure Americans struggle with, namely chronic illness and obesity. Many people believe that food insecurity and obesity exist at opposite ends of the spectrum; however, research has proven that this is not necessarily the case. In fact, most chronic diseases are directly related to poor diet and eating habits. Many food-insecure families either do not have access to or cannot afford the same healthy foods as middle and upper-income families. This is especially the case in urban areas where fresh produce is limited and, therefore, comes at a higher cost than many processed foods. Rather than rely solely upon federal government subsidies, which generally focus upon income, many local governments have chosen to partner with community organizations, advocates, food pantries, etc. and tackle the problem of inadequate and unequal distribution of healthy, nutritious foods by planting community gardens.
First, community gardens increase both the production and availability of healthy food in low-income neighborhoods. Many community gardeners even take advantage of food production in community gardens to provide a significant source income, in addition to food, for their families. Community gardens allow families and individuals without land of their own the opportunity to produce fresh food and while providing access to nutritionally rich foods that may otherwise be unavailable to low-income families and individuals. Surprisingly, urban agriculture is 3-5 times more productive per acre than traditional large-scale farming and results in less food waste. Community gardens also increase the availability of healthy foods to food-insecure families by donating thousands of pounds of fresh produce to local Feeding America food banks and pantries and involving them in the processes that provide food security and alleviate hunger.
Second, community gardens decrease the likelihood of chronic illness due to poor diet and increase the overall quality of life experienced by low-income and food insecure families. Studies have shown that community gardeners and their children are more active and eat healthier diets than do non-gardening families, which reduces the risk of both sickness and obesity. In fact, medical research also shows that eating locally produced food reduces asthma rates in children because they are able to consume manageable amounts of local pollen and develop immunity to common allergens. Stress has also proven to hinder the overall quality of life experienced by both parents and children in food-insecure households. Community gardens also have a positive impact on stress levels, which affect one’s mental, social, and emotional health. As it turns out, exposure to green space reduces stress and increases a sense of wellness and belonging.
Community gardens have the ability to help feed families struggling with hunger and increase their health and quality of life. Local governments have the opportunity to play a vital role in achieving food security within their communities by promoting a variety of programs that allow their low-income residents, who are often under served by the supermarket system, equal access to nutritious foods. A range of options exist that can enhance opportunities for low-income and food insecure residents to access healthy, nutritious foods; however, community gardens offer a unique opportunity for ALL members of the community, including those who reap its benefits, to get involved. While community gardens can supply fresh vegetables and fruits to needy participants and their families, gardens alone will not eradicate food insecurity. It will take people joining together from a wide variety of backgrounds (age, race, culture, social class, etc.) and demanding we change the enduring paradox of the American landscape-- the persistence of hunger in the world’s most productive agricultural system.