Growing healthier communities through community gardens

“Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime,” according to an old proverb.

That’s why United Way of Williamson County is constantly looking for ways to create long-term change while meeting short-term needs. And one of the ways we’ve found is by helping establish and maintain community gardens. A community garden established in 2015 in Franklin provided food for 1,600 residents and another established recently in Fairview yielded more than 1,000 pounds of fresh produce and provided food for more than 300 local families in one growing season.

Fighting food insecurity

At 25.4 percent, Tennessee ranks 14th highest in the nation for the number of children facing food insecurity, according to Second Harvest of Middle Tennessee, one of our health partners. Food gardens provide fresh produce at a fraction of the cost of the grocery store, but many low-income families who would benefit most from these cost savings don’t have anywhere to put a garden. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 33 percent of Tennessee households are renters with an average wage of less than $13 per hour.

Community gardens such as our garden in Fairview, however, provide low-income families with convenient access to fresh fruits and vegetables that can not only help struggling families stretch their grocery dollars, but can also ensure they’re getting the nutrients they need for optimal health.

Building better health today

Study after study confirms the multitude of health benefits — both mental and physical — of fresh, local produce.

The quick turnaround time from garden to table provides a few key benefits:

  • Fruits and vegetables begin losing nutrients from the time they’re picked, so when you’re cooking and eating those green beans an hour after you picked them, they’ve retained quite a bit more vitamins than the green beans that took 48 hours to get to the store.
  • Fresh, local produce does not contain potentially harmful preservatives.
  • Less distance between food source and kitchen tables means less opportunity for contamination.

Beyond the nutritional benefits of eating locally grown produce are the added benefits of simply eating more fruits and vegetables.

Tennessee ranks 2nd in the U.S. for the highest rate of obesity among high school students and 9th in the U.S. among adults. The health implications for obesity include a broad range of diseases from heart disease and diabetes to cancer. Research shows, however, that people who eat more fruits and vegetables are less likely to be obese.

And the immediate benefits don’t stop there. Community gardens give participants the opportunity to:

  • Incorporate more physical activity into their routines
  • Learn about where food comes from
  • Spend time outside
  • Meet neighbors and build community

Building better health tomorrow

A community garden’s benefits go beyond the tangible short-term ones you see with the first crop yield. For many people — residents and volunteers, alike — a community garden is an opportunity to learn from experts how to plant and maintain a garden.

Volunteers and community participants can use this knowledge to plant their own food gardens in the future, if they choose to.

By helping families build better health today, we help them build better health tomorrow.

Interested in becoming involved with our community gardens? Find out how you can help by emailing Debby Rainey at drainey@uwwc.org.

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