Crop, Stock and Ledger

Crop, Stock and Ledger

Growing your own vegetables has multiple benefits

Photo of David Shiley

David Shiley
Extension Educator, Local Food Systems and Small Farms

Do you look forward to the summer because of the fresh produce you grow or purchase at a local farmer's market? I have grown my own vegetables for many years, and look forward to eating that first tomato and sweet corn from my garden. Eating fresh vegetables from my garden is just one of the health benefits I get from gardening. In addition to consuming more vegetables from a nutrition standpoint, other benefits from gardening include exercise, stress relief, and improved mental health.

Many of us have been told by a doctor or nutritionist that we should consume more vegetables and fruits. However, some people complain that vegetables lack flavor or they dislike the flavor of a particular vegetable. Compare the taste of a locally grown vine ripened tomato to one that has been picked a little prematurely so that it can be shipped to the marketplace. I think that it is hard to match the taste of a vine ripened tomato. There have been a number of research studies which have shown that people who garden consume more vegetables than other people. One of the reasons for this increased vegetable consumption is the taste of fresh vegetables.

Another benefit of gardening, exercise! Gardening activities such as planting, pulling weeds, and harvesting get us up and moving. These activities are generally considered low impact types of exercise, but what a great way to exercise while growing your own food.

An additional benefit from gardening that I enjoy is relaxation and stress relief. Working in my garden allows time away from the telephone and cell phone, as well as, my computer and email. So although cultivating and pulling weeds doesn't sound very relaxing, it works for me because I am disconnected from the electronic world. Research at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois, and at the University of Michigan supports the stress relief benefits of being disconnected through activities such as gardening.

If all of these benefits from gardening are not enough to convince you that a small garden might improve your overall health, several studies have shown that gardening can improve your mental health. A research study in Norway found that 50% of the participants with depression and bipolar II disorder experienced measurable improvement through six hours of gardening per week over a three month period.

If you aren't already actively gardening, you can still get started this summer. This is a good time to begin a fall vegetable garden, even if it is a container garden. Vegetables to plant right now include lettuce, carrots, and even Irish potatoes. Broccoli and cabbage seeds can also be planted now so that plants are ready to set into the garden in August. In the middle of August you can plant radish, spinach, onions and collard greens.

The University of Illinois Extension has several "how to" vegetable garden websites that you may want to visit at . You can also call the University of Illinois Extension office in Champaign at 333-7672 if you have additional questions.

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