April is a great month for fresh starts and gardening. There are many benefits to gardening, including controlling your weight. A study in the American Journal of Public Health titled Harvesting More than Vegetables: The Potential Weight Control Benefits of a Community Garden examined the association between community gardening and healthy body weight. The results showed both women and men community gardeners had significantly lower body mass indexes than did their sisters and brothers who did not grow their own garden.
I recently sat down with Veteran Jon Hyjek, who is an avid Florida gardener. Jon is also a participant in the VA’s MOVE! Weight Management program where he has been active in teaching other Veterans the benefits of gardening and tips to develop a green thumb. Here he shares his insights.
Laura: What do you feel are the benefits of gardening?
Jon: Growing food in your yard is a healthy and sustainable alternative to store-bought food choices without the pesticides. The second benefit is the cost savings of a garden. Here in Florida I grow kale, broccoli, peas, tomatoes, turnips, carrots, scallions, romaine lettuce, climbing spinach, collards, and zucchini, to name a few, and this saves me a lot of money. I have enough fruits and vegetables to fill up my plate and share with neighbors. The final benefit is the relaxation factor. My mind is at rest when I am gardening, no phone, and no disturbances.
Laura: For someone who wants to start a garden, what are the keys to success?
Jon: First, obtain some basic knowledge of what you are able to plant in your region. In South Florida you can get two plantings a year. Also, understand your soil, the preparation, and compost. Coffee grounds, egg shells, and horse/cow manure are excellent for my soil compost. Second, start small; consider container planting or raised-bed planting to allow for ease in controlling nutrients within the small area. Third, know where your seeds are coming from. If you are planting a row of vegetables consider buying seeds online for bulk with a trusted company.
Laura: How has the garden helped you with the VA’s MOVE Weight Management program?
Jon: Gardening is a healthier choice for me. I know I am eating fresh fruits and vegetables because I pick them from my back yard. I really enjoy eating out of my back yard and I believe it helps me sustain my weight loss.
If you’re considering starting a garden, the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture State’s Cooperative Extension Program has lots of information on how to start a fruit and vegetable garden in your region. Just click on the map to learn more about growing a garden in your region.
Are you a Veteran that is considering farming as a career? The Veteran Farmer Coalition works with Veterans of all eras and branches to provide the training or funding to pursue a career in agriculture.
Looking for recipes to enjoy the fruits of your labor? The USDA Recipes for Healthy Kids Cookbook for Homes in not only for kids. These tasty recipes are a great way to help you celebrate National Garden Month. And remember, when working in the sun, be sure to dress appropriately to avoid a sun burn and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
Laura Dolena RD, licensed dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator, registered Yoga teacher 200 – Health Promotion Disease Prevention Program manager and a registered dietitian at West Palm Beach VA Medical Center. Laura teaches MOVE! Weight Management Program classes, Yoga, and Tai Chi and facilitates monthly garden tours at local botanical garden at West Palm Beach VA Medical Center.