One Magic Square: how small home gardens can increase vegetable consumption
You don’t have to look far to find a plethora of commentary on healthy eating. The data supports it too; eating fruit and vegetables is known to reduce chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The World Health Organisation states that daily consumption of adequate fresh produce is critical to maintaining health and reducing ‘nutrition related non-communicable diseases’ – cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary conditions. The Federal Department of Health, in the 2015 Annual Report stated that poor diet is the leading health burden in Australia.
Yet despite the benefits being widely publicised, consumption of fruit and vegetables remains below the optimum for large proportions of the Australian population, particularly those with a low ‘socioeconomic position’. In fact, only 5 percent of the population consume the recommended daily portion of vegetables. Why? The perception that fruit and vegetables are too expensive, and alternative ‘energy dense, nutrient poor’ foods are cheaper.
So how can we overcome this?
It’s simple really.
Just grow your own.
Home gardening has often been suggested as a method to overcoming low consumption of vegetables, but no economic figures have been able to support this on a realistic scale before. I believed that cost-effective, nutritious, home-grown produce is an attainable reality for low socio-economic populations.
Over the course of a year, I monitored 26 different combinations of soil, plants and plant densities in small one metre squared modular gardens, comparing the total edible produce with the equivalent supermarket value. The study allowed me to examine production variables to determine the suitability of small scale gardens to supply a meaningful complement to a household’s nutrition demands.
It was found that by mixing standard potting mix soil with garden and kitchen waste was the most suitable growing medium, with a combination of leafy greens, beans and herbs producing a highly nutritious mixture of consumables. The process was foolproof, modules only needed watering three times a week! Leafy greens and herbs are particularly good plants for home gardening, as they can be grown under ‘cut and come again’ conditions.
Over time, this particular modular garden can save the grower 70c per day, over a year that’s more than $250. These savings are representative on money not spent at the supermarket on produce or other foodstuffs, while also increasing nutrient intake.
Home grown vegetables not only generate personal financial benefits, they can also reduce government expenditure on health care due to decreases in the rates of nutrition related non-communicable diseases.
And there is more.
Beyond the savings and health benefits that flow from growing and consuming your own produce over time. There is a large amount of already well-acknowledged research about the psycho-social benefits from gardening at home too.
Home-gardeners are said to have all round healthier lifestyles from reduced sedentary behaviours, are more encouraged to interact with others in their neighbourhood through sharing and swapping of produce. This in turn contributes to the process of ‘urban greening’ – increasing green spaces in built cities to reduce ambient temperatures. Finally, growing your own reduces food miles and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
So now that you know just how much there is to gain from home gardening, why not give it a go?
All you need is ‘one magic square’.
This research was conducted as part of the requirements for completing Honours for Evie’s Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. The work earned her First Class Honours and was awarded the University Medal.
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Litt JS, Soobader M, Mark S, Hale JW, Buchenau M (2011) The Influence of Social Involvement, Neighbourhood Aesthetics, and Community Garden Participation on Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. American Journal of Public Health 101, 1466-1473.
Eigenbrod C, Gruda N (2015) Urban vegetable for food security in cities. A review. Agronomy and Sustainable Development 35, 483-498.
Kiviniemi MT, Duangdao KM (2009) Affective associations mediate the influence of cost benefit beliefs on fruit and vegetable consumption. Appetite 52, 771-775.