Growing the ‘Grow Your Own Food’ Movement

Growing the ‘Grow Your Own Food’ Movement

Get Your Neighbors' Hands Dirty

Population growth has impacted food demand globally, moving food production away from homes. For decades factory farms and mono-cropped agriculture have sustained increased demands leading to environmental and health consequences, including food waste. Larger scale food production has altered the natural landscape and ecosystem, impacted climate and microclimate, and generated surplus of foods that are not consumed, while low and under-served communities face food insecurity and related health risks. The system has failed and communities have responded! Many creative solutions are in place to intercept the waste stream, deliver excess food products to underserved communities, and inspire locally sourced foods with farm-to-table restaurants, farm-to-school initiatives, and connecting with your food source directly at farmers markets and in home gardens where more folks are growing their own food.

Home Gardens: An urban home gardening program combined with nutrition education in 32 low income families in Santa Clara, CA showed incredibly positive results in stress reduction, mental health, physical activity and improved weight.1 This program demonstrated that home gardens increased consumption of fruits and vegetables with greater food access.1 The sense of pride in growing your own food inspired more home food preparation and cooking, shifting away from processed and fast foods in a marginalized population at high risk for cardiometabolic disease.1 Families found that growing food is more accessible both in proximity and affordability, freshness, flavor, and convenience.1 It’s hard not to eat well, when the produce aisle is in your back yard!

Community Gardens: A similar conclusion was drawn for a community garden project in two Navajo communities with monthly gardening workshops designed to improve access and healthy eating in two NM locations.2 The intervention was designed to address growing concerns for food scarcity where the average daily recommendations of fresh fruit and vegetables are substandard in communities where there is an increased prevalence of diabetes and obesity.2 This project was a strong foot in the door for building community and developing a new lifestyle practice. The results created a blueprint for developing future interventions and identified strategies for overcoming community self reliance through education and inclusion of Navajo gardening traditions.2 The need was demonstrated and well received.

School Gardens: Waldorf and Montessori schools were among the first to embrace slow food in curriculums well before the term slow food existed. A systematic review was conducted on the impact of school gardens and farm to school activities added to curriculums around the country in both private and public school initiatives.3 The context is broad, including integrated curriculums and nutrition education studies, experiential learning, and smarter lunchroom interventions.3 The results are slight, however, the long-term impacts are unmeasured for what I call the teach-a-man-to-fish approach.3 The goal in school programs remains focused on increasing preference and dietary intake of fruits and veg. There is incredible potential, and it has been part of my life’s work to participate to move these concepts along in each city I have lived over the last decade. I am encouraged to see the grant funding and the wide reach with growing (literally, ha!) interest.

Farmers Markets: Farmers markets are an incredible way to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your health by sourcing your foods locally. Income can be the biggest obstacle to accessing nutrient dense foods.4 Food insecurity leads to poor health and demonstrated malnourishment.4 A Canadian Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program offered government subsidized support to bring higher costs of locally sourced foods into economic reach for lower income families.4 Data collection faced limitations in computer literacy which impacted results of the study.4 Overall, the need was demonstrated in the randomized trial, and demonstrated a rise in food security within these populations, improving diet, and psycho-social well being.4

Schools have a great opportunity to reach our youth, communities are embracing community gardens more and more, infrastructure and funding are increasing for these activities as they resolve a number of concerns at once for community health, resource, self reliance and resilience. Locally sourced foods, connection with community, health and wellness from connecting with the soil, mental health in participating in the cultivation, tending and harvesting of nourishing foods, and sharing surplus within the community. Plants and vegetables also retain the majority of their nutrients when they are consumed closer to the time they are picked! It is a true health, environmental and social win, all the way around. Here’s to more evidence-based research and grant funding for farm to community efforts for all ages.

  1. Palar K, Lemus Hufstedler E, Hernandez K, Chang A, Ferguson L, Lozano R, Weiser SD. Nutrition and Health Improvements After Participation in an Urban Home Garden Program. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2019 Oct;51(9):1037-1046. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2019.06.028. Erratum in: J Nutr Educ Behav. 2020 Jan;52(1):102. PMID: 31601420; PMCID: PMC6949143.
  2. Ornelas IJ, Deschenie D, Jim J, Bishop S, Lombard K, Beresford SA. Yéego Gardening! A Community Garden Intervention to Promote Health on the Navajo Nation. Prog Community Health Partnersh. 2017;11(4):417-425. doi: 10.1353/cpr.2017.0049. PMID: 29332855; PMCID: PMC6582943.
  3. Prescott MP, Cleary R, Bonanno A, Costanigro M, Jablonski BBR, Long AB. Farm to School Activities and Student Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Adv Nutr. 2020;11(2):357-374. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz094
  4. Aktary ML, Caron-Roy S, Sajobi T, O’Hara H, Leblanc P, Dunn S, McCormack GR, Timmins D, Ball K, Downs S, Minaker LM, Nykiforuk CI, Godley J, Milaney K, Lashewicz B, Fournier B, Elliott C, Raine KD, Prowse RJ, Olstad DL. Impact of a farmers’ market nutrition coupon programme on diet quality and psychosocial well-being among low-income adults: protocol for a randomised controlled trial and a longitudinal qualitative investigation. BMJ Open. 2020 May 5;10(5):e035143. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-035143. PMID: 32371514; PMCID: PMC7228519.
Nuts (and bolts) about Nutrition Facts Label

Nuts (and bolts) about Nutrition Facts Label

Here is how to read Nutrition Facts Labels.1 Here is why you are confused.2 You are not alone.

We all do our best to connect directly with our food source, supporting growers directly at the farmers markets and possibly growing our own food at home; sprouts under the kitchen sink, fermenting, potted culinary herbs and sometimes full blown vegetable gardens. Many of us, however, face days or years of our lives where we lean into the convenience of prepared foods and come face to face with the nutrition facts labels. “With over 61% of US adults reporting that they use the Nutrition Facts Panel, these labels have great visibility and potential to be important tools for public education and policy.” (Malik, Willet, Hu; 2016) The trouble is, across the globe, folks just do not understand what the information means and heterogeneity (portion variance between similar products) on labeling creates consumer confusion.4 If you are frustrated, you are not alone.

Positive Impact: With the inclusion of trans fats on prior iterations of the label, this held manufacturers accountable for reducing these harmful ingredients and influenced them to reduce trans fats overall; success! The same is hoped for recent changes which now require identifying added sugars.3

Room for Debate: The regulations surrounding nutrition fact labels, are in concert with the Dietary Guidelines that are released every 5 years. Recent updates to dietary guidelines ignored evidence linking alcohol intake with higher risk for developing cancer.5 This is not the only exclusion. The current iteration has also changed the serving size referenced on the nutrition facts label to reflect the larger portion generally consumed or to match the size of the container, i.e. a larger portion size than has been consumed in decades past.6 

I am concerned about the portions. On the one hand, sharing accurate information about the full portion that is sold as a container to be consumed, often in one sitting, has tremendous value in warning folks that the 20 oz soda as a serving contains significantly more than the daily needs recommend, aka multiple servings in one package.3 On the flip side, this normalizes this larger serving size as a “standard portion” and invites the consumer to disregard the daily serving recommendations. This has been proven in three studies to result in larger self-selected portion sizes.4

Moreso, the portion variance from package to package, makes it increasingly difficult for consumers to compare products.4

If I were in a regulatory position, I would mandate sale of smaller sizes, uniformity in serving size for product comparison, and compulsory dual-column to include both standardized serving size and full package content nutrition facts side by side. This is currently elective and in practice by some manufacturers.4

I’m with Bloomburg, if we could outlaw Big Gulps7 and mandate smaller packaging, this  seems the most effective approach to “show” consumers what a real serving size is. As I say this, the environmentalist in me squirms at the thought of extra packaging. The effort over time, would discourage overconsumption of high sugar content drinks and prevent industry manipulation of increased portion size by large companies capitalizing on food addiction, in direct opposition to consumer health. 

Video sourced from fda.gov

Awareness is key. Check out the FDA’s article on How To Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label1, and the CDC to Learn How the NEW Nutrition Facts Label Can Help You Improve Your Health8. “The consumption of ultraprocessed foods associated with the increase in portion size has been linked to diets of low nutritional quality and an increased risk of developing obesity and cancer.” (Kliemann N, Kraemer MVS, Scapin T, et al; 2018)

Still confused? Schedule your next trip to the grocery with me! Let’s crunch some numbers in the aisles and set you up for success with your health goals one bite at a time.

Image sourced from fda.gov
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. How To Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. fda.gov. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label. Accessed April 8, 2021.
  2. Goyal R, Deshmukh N. Food label reading: Read before you eat. J Educ Health Promot. 2018;7:56. Published 2018 Apr 3. doi:10.4103/jehp.jehp_35_17 
  3. Malik VS, Willett WC, Hu FB. The Revised Nutrition Facts Label: A Step Forward and More Room for Improvement. JAMA. 2016;316(6):583-584. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.8005 
  4. Van der Horst K, Bucher T, Duncanson K, Murawski B, Labbe D. Consumer Understanding, Perception and Interpretation of Serving Size Information on Food Labels: A Scoping Review. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2189. Published 2019 Sep 11. doi:10.3390/nu11092189 
  5. American Institute for Cancer Research. New Dietary Guidelines for Americans Ignore Critical Evidence on Alcohol and Cancer. aicr.org. https://www.aicr.org/news/new-dietary-guidelines-for-americans-ignore-critical-evidence-on-alcohol-and-cancer/. December 29, 2020. Accessed April 10, 2021.
  6. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols; Wartella EA, Lichtenstein AH, Boon CS, editors. Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols: Phase I Report. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. 2, History of Nutrition Labeling. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209859/ 
  7. Bittman, Mark. Banning the Big Gulp Ban. New York Times. March 19, 2013. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/banning-the-big-gulp-ban/. Accessed April 8, 2021. 
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Learn How the NEW Nutrition Facts Label Can Help You Improve Your Health. cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/strategies-guidelines/nutrition-facts-label.html. Reviewed Feb 10, 2020. Accessed April 8, 2021. 
  9. Kliemann N, Kraemer MVS, Scapin T, et al. Serving Size and Nutrition Labelling: Implications for Nutrition Information and Nutrition Claims on Packaged Foods. Nutrients. 2018;10(7):891. Published 2018 Jul 12. doi:10.3390/nu10070891