Urban Farming

Rise of backyard farming

Along with fresh fruits and vegetables, mini livestock, backyard farms are providing jobs, start-up programmes, knowledge and social connections, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

Mrs Ngozi Chineze lives in Lafenwa, an Ogun State suburb. She is far from Shoprite or Spar, two major retail chains.

This means, she is unable to source some of the family needs from either of these two supermarkets. But she is not complaining. A civil servant, she has joined a growing number of urban dwellers growing backyard farms. Like other urban farmers, she benefits from fresh veggies and increases her vitamin intake. A combination of raised beds is used to grow the produce. The urban farming model puts fresh, locally-grown fruit and vegetables on the table.

She is happy to start a farm at her backyard, which provides her high-quality fresh, local produce.

With urban farms, she believes a lot of young people who have the capacity, can make a living from growing crops and raising mini livestock.

According to her, backyard farming helps to address a number of serious challenges, including public health and well-being concerns.

She encourages people to take advantage of their gardens and growing things.

Backyard farming – a term used to encompass everything from independent vegetable gardens – to  home beehives, chickens and more – is on the rise.

And while backyard farming is on the rise, it is nothing new.

Backyard farming seems to be an activity that many homes are really interested in.

What started as a backyard gardening project has blossomed into a viable commercial farming.

Founder, Jovana Integrated Farms, Prince Arinze Onebunne, has been raising mini-livestock in his backyard.

Seen as the rabbit king, Onebunne is one of the leading rabbit farmers in the country and has built an extensive business, selling meat to hotels and local shops. He described backyard farms as vital resource for Nigerians living in areas with high levels of food insecurity.

Agriculture and livestock farming, he said, could solve Nigeria’s food problems.

His philosophy is to raise animals that can be eaten.

He has had successes and costly failures.

He has read and reviewed websites, articles, and blogs and watched videos on farming. His success has come from much trial and error.

According to him, a growing industry is that producing small animals. These range from rabbits and squirrels raised for meat to animals such as mice rose for pets.

He said: “Animals, such as guinea pigs and albino, are raised for research. These animals are used to test everything from drugs to toothpaste.”

Onebunne is encouraging people to start backyard mini-livestock farms raising chickens, rabbit and guinea fowl.

Some of his clients have built backyard pens and cages cobbled with discarded wood and corrugated iron.

From backyard vegetable gardens to community spaces, front yard orchards, and window boxes, the National President of Federation of Agricultural Commodity Association of Nigeria (FACAN), Dr. Victor Iyama said people should be encouraged to grow food where ever they are.

Iyama said food security is important, adding that it is vital to support every effort to produce more food.

He said backyard   farmers play in a role in fostering healthy, local food within the community.

For him, the government needs to realise the inherent potential of urban agriculture in creating jobs and supporting food supply.

Former Dean of Faculty of Agriculture, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Prof Babafunso Sonaiya  said backyard farmers need to develop some concrete skills to be successful.

He said backyard poultry is an excellent way to enhance the availability of and access to micronutrients and protein-rich foods.

According to him, this is enabling families to produce eggs for home consumption and enhance their protein intake, while surplus production can be sold in the market or bartered.

He emphasised the need for the government and the private sector to ensure poultry enterprises are encouraged.

He said backyard poultry farmers must obtain the basic training  useful for rearing chicks, feeding, housing and disease management.

Urban Farming

5 Benefits of Growing a Vegetable Garden

I have always thought that our family was fairly healthy when it came to what we ate. We have the occasional bowl of ice cream, but don’t pig out all the time. We don’t eat out every day, and I never make hamburgers for dinner.

But then my husband got his cholesterol and blood pressure checked. Oh. Suddenly my assumptions about our diet quickly crashed down around me and we have had to reevaluate how we eat. My husband is on a crash course with a heart attack in 20 or 30 years unless we change something now.

So that’s what we are trying to do. To accomplish this we have to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet. Every meal suddenly has to revolve around vegetables instead of meat and bread.

So, to help offset this, I began a patio vegetable garden. And along the way have learned some surprising things.

5 Benefits of Growing a Vegetable Garden



Suddenly I have 30 cucumbers and have to be creative in using them before they go bad. So by having an abundance of vegetables, it forces me to use them when I otherwise wouldn’t think about it.

And by having 30 cucumbers that need to be eaten in a few days, it allows me to be creative and find new favorite recipes to use. I get to experiment and make vegetables taste great! And thus we want to eat them more.

Growing Vegetables


This was my number 1 reason for starting a garden. I wanted to save money, and I have. I invested a small amount of money in some seeds, soil and a few containers. And now I can have an entire season’s worth of vegetables out on my patio. All for pennies compared to what it costs to buy this much fruit and veggies in store.


Growing a garden can be a wonderful way to show kids the value of working with their hands (and a great homeschool project). Having kids plant seeds, watch them sprout and grow into large plants, and then harvesting vegetables that they get to eat teaches them that with hard work, determination, and sticking with projects, the benefits can be great. By investing some time and energy, they actually grew something to eat.

Child Helping With Garden


Sometimes you will end up with too many tomatoes at once. You simply can’t eat them all at once so you share them with others and bless them.

When you invite a new family from church over for dinner, send them home with a nice package of homegrown tomatoes and a cucumber or two. Share the fruit of your labor and bless those around you.



Often, the fruits and vegetables that are store-bought are pumped full of all kinds of chemicals and additives to plump them up, help them grow unnaturally fast, or improve their color. Well, this just means that you are consuming that many more chemicals into your body.

This can be so harmful in the long run. The more vegetables you try and eat to be healthy, the more chemicals you are also ingesting, which practically counters the value of the vegetables.

By growing your own fruits and vegetables, you can control what goes on and in your plants. You know where they have been and what has been done to them.

I hope that I have inspired you to start a garden. It can be so rewarding to kids and parents alike. And you would be surprised; anyone can have a garden!

Urban Farming

Benefits of Backyard Eggs

Three summers ago I adopted Henrietta, a laying hen with a bum leg. A friend across town had two dozen birds, and Henrietta’s leg injury put her way down in her flock’s pecking order. Her feathers were mostly gone, the roosters were taking advantage of her, and she was having a hard time getting to her food. If I didn’t take her in, my friend told me, the bird would be soup by nightfall. So I, along with the other people at Better Farm, adopted the bird. She lived several days in a cat carrier inside the house while we constructed a makeshift coop, bonding with the people and dogs of the house and beginning the long process of growing back her feathers and stamina.

So began the illustrious history of Better Farm‘s backyard chickens.eggs in a bowl

Henrietta was an Ameraucana who laid beautiful, pale turquoise eggs every day, then every other day, then sporadically, as she eased into adult life. Without any roosters around, those eggs went unfertilized and found themselves served up as breakfast to the Better Farm crew that took such good care of Henrietta. Interns in 2011 worried Henrietta was lonely; so in came Sissy and Scarlet to keep company. More eggs ensued. The following year saw a bunch more birds: three more Ameraucanas (Bernadette, Delores, and Destiny’s Child), nine bard rocks (Kiwi, Big Mama, Scooter, and six others we’re still trying to tell apart), and 19 spent hens from a local egg factory (all called Rapunzel).

I’ve participated in the egg debate ever since becoming vegan 11 years ago; a full decade after I opted for an octo-lavo, vegetarian diet. My reasons for going all the way had to do with no longer being able to separate dairy and eggs from the meat industry (pregnant, milk-producing cows produce calves, some of which will end up as veal; and “spent hens” are turned from egg-layers in horrifically cramped conditions to dog food or Campbell’s soup—not to mention the utter disregard for male chicks born in a laying hen’s world).

As a vegan, I’m hard-pressed to take issue with the egg production at Better Farm. It seems more a passive demonstration of healthy, happy hens — many of which were rescued from undesirable conditions. We give the birds plenty of space to run, lots of delicious food to eat, fresh bedding and cozy housing, and more TLC than probably any birds you’re likely to meet.

So, what about those eggs? If you’re into eating them, no egg compares to the free-range, backyard egg variety. From appearance to health benefits, not enough can be said for raising your own free-range chickens, and keeping the ladies good and happy so they provide you with top-quality eggs. 

The Numbers First

Backyard eggs have approximately 25 percent more vitamin E, 75 percent more beta carotene, and as much as 20 times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as do factory farmed eggs. Oh — and for everyone who’s ever said eggs are riddled with cholesterol — backyard eggs contain only about half as much cholesterol as factory farmed eggs. 

Factory Farmed Eggs

The vast majority of grocery store eggs are produced by factory farmed hens. Standard procedure is to keep five to ten hens in battery cages approximately eighteen by twenty inches. (Chickens have a wingspan of about thirty inches, by the way.) In other terms, this would be like stuffing 25 chickens into a shopping cart. The cages are kept by the hundreds in large buildings where dirt and feces pile up fast. Some farms clean these buildings as infrequently as once per year or less. If you’ve ever been in or anywhere near one of these farms, you probably know the smell does not increase the appetite, for eggs or anything else.

With this in mind, you won’t be surprised to learn that E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter are found in many of the hens themselves — as well as in a significant percentage of the eggs that reach supermarket shelves. Factory farmed hens are fed a diet of processed chicken feed, based on grains (mostly corn and soy) and protein sources (meat, bone and fish meal). This feed itself is shockingly low in certain vitamins and omega-3’s, and high in cholesterol. Put two and two together and you can see why the eggs from supermarkets aren’t very good for you. 

Backyard Birds

Chickens are unbelievably social creatures, with complete vocabularies of sounds and signals for one another. They can announce food, warn each other of danger, call their friends over and much, much more. They’re the namesake for “pecking orders,” have bonds with certain members of the flock and actually have a fairly discerning palate. Backyard chickens, if given the option, will eat vast amounts of green vegetation (high in beta carotene and omega-3’s and low in cholesterol), bugs and tons of grains. Their eggs are a byproduct of this nutrition. 

Seeing (and Tasting) is Believing

Crack open a store-bought egg, then crack open an egg from the local farmers’ market (or your own backyard). The egg from the store will feature a thin shell, pale yolk that breaks easily and watery white. The flavor will be bland, the texture slippery.
A backyard bird’s egg will boast thick shells, firm whites and an unbelievably bright yolk (often bright orange, representing all the beta carotene inside). The flavor will be much stronger, and you’ll feel energized after your meal, not weighed down. 

Urban Farming

7 Surprising Financial Benefits of Gardening

YOU PROBABLY ALREADY know that gardening can save you money on groceries, but it also has other great financial benefits. Discover how spending some time in the sun and dirt can save (or even make) you money.

1. Working in the garden can boost your mood.

Outdoor activities like gardening can make you a happier person. According to a 2012 study published in Extreme Physiology & Medicine, outdoor activity in a green environment causes “greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement.” So if you normally turn to pricey habits to help boost your mood, such as shopping or buying yourself a treat at the coffee shop, try gardening instead. And, like exercise, a regular gardening habit is a great way to maintain a general sense of well-being. In fact, speaking of exercise…

2. Gardening counts as exercise.

Cancel that gym membership, at least for the summer. According to a study of adults age 60 and older at Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, the level of exercise you get while gardening and doing housework is associated with lower risks of heart attack and stroke. Gardening also burns about 272 calories an hour (for a person weighing about 150 pounds), which is more than you’d burn spending the same hour walking at a moderate pace.

3. You can sell what you produce.

You can sell extra fruits, vegetables and even flowers from your garden. If it’s appropriate and legal in your community, you can set up a roadside stand, or you can just sell directly to your neighbors. Depending on your area, you might even be able to sell your produce to local restaurants and stores – ask to speak to a manager to gauge his or her interest in purchasing local produce.

4. And if you can’t sell your produce, you can barter with it.

Trading produce with your neighbors is an easy way to save money. You might be able to trade your goods for fruits and vegetables that you don’t grow, fresh eggs or even other products or services. Some businesses get in on the produce-trading game, too. For example, the recent lime shortage has led some bars and restaurants to offer patrons free appetizers or drinks in exchange for limes from their home trees.

5. You can rent out your garden for events.

If you have a well-maintained garden, you can rent it out for events like garden parties. You could also put your space on a short-term rental site like Airbnb and offer the garden as an area to camp or simply as a perk of staying in your home.

6. Gardening can help you meet people.

If you want to meet more people in your area, it might feel like you have to go to bars or other locations where you need to spend money. Instead, seek out a plot in a community garden. Not only is this a great way to grow food if you don’t have garden space of your own, but you’ll meet a community of people who are also interested in growing their own food.

7. Gardening can save you money on groceries.

This is the most obvious financial benefit of having a garden, but it bears mentioning because saving money on food by gardening isn’t necessarily as easy or obvious as you might expect. You need to be smart about what you grow and how you grow it because gardening-supply costs can eat up any savings you’d see. Here are some things you can do to keep costs down:

  • Grow plants appropriate for your area: Research which plants do and do not grow well in your climate, and plant appropriately. You don’t want to waste money on plants that won’t actually produce fruit or vegetables. If a simple Internet search isn’t helpful, you can always contact your local Cooperative Extension office.
  • Get free plants and supplies: Ask friends with gardens if they can give you plant clippings to start your own garden – herbs are especially good for this. Many towns and cities also offer free mulch or compost as long as you go pick it up.
  • Don’t buy lots of supplies before you start gardening: If you’ve never gardened before, start small. You don’t want to sink a lot of money into supplies and then discover that you hate doing it.
Urban Farming

Raised Beds vs. In-Ground Gardens

When starting a community or school garden, the first thought often turns to the building of raised beds. In the context of community and school gardens, the term “raised bed” refers to an elevated box that is relatively small in size and filled with enough soil to support plants without using the soil underneath the box.

Raised Beds

A raised bed frame can be made of wood, masonry or other building material. Raised beds can vary in size depending on the site, the materials used in their construction and gardeners’ preferences. Raised beds are typically 6 to 8 inches high, 3 to 6 feet wide and 6 to 8 feet long. Some raised bed frames are further elevated above the ground with blocks or bricks to make them more accessible to people who have difficulty bending or stooping.

For community and school gardens, there are many advantages to gardening in raised beds, including:

  • Manageability: Raised beds offer a manageable way to garden a smaller space intensively.
  • Prevention of soil compaction and plant damage: One of the greatest advantages of raised beds comes from the protection the structure provides from foot traffic, especially from children working in a garden area. Since people work on the paths and don’t walk in well-designed raised beds, the soil does not get compacted and plants are less likely to be damaged.
  • Longer growing season: Raised beds warm up more quickly in the spring and drain better (assuming the soil is properly prepared), allowing for a longer growing season and better growing conditions. Particularly in the South, a properly prepared raised bed allows plant roots to breathe.
  • Less weeding and maintenance: Once the soil in a raised bed has stabilized, compaction is almost non-existent so the need for seasonal tilling is minimal. Weed populations decrease over time in a raised bed that is well cared for and mulched.
  • Better drainage: A well-prepared raised bed allows the soil to drain better than in an in-ground garden. In some areas of Georgia, the soil drains so poorly that raised beds enable gardening of crops that would not otherwise grow.
  • Easier soil amendments: A raised bed can enable crop growth in an area that otherwise would not support gardening. On steep slopes, raised beds can act as a form of terracing. Raised beds can be built on parking lots and other compacted, difficult-to-garden urban soils. For specific crops that thrive in particular soils, raised beds can be amended appropriately.
  • Material conservation: Because the gardening space is concentrated, the management of water, fertilizer, mulch and soil amendments can be more carefully controlled, leading to less waste.
  • Access for gardeners with disabilities: Raised beds, at the proper height, can improve access for wheelchairs, or for gardeners who have a hard time bending over.
  • Reduced conflict: In gardens where plots are leased for the year, raised beds clearly define boundaries and reduce inadvertent trampling.

In-Ground Gardens

For many school and community gardens, growing directly in the ground offers significant advantages. Gardening in the ground allows the use of tractors to initially prepare areas and the start-up costs are far lower than for raised beds. Other advantages include:

  • Use of existing soil: Most soils are perfectly fine for gardening, provided the soil is properly tilled, mulched and watered. Even without organic amendments, most Georgia soils can produce a bountiful harvest.
  • Financially economical: By using existing soil and not importing soil, money can be saved and used for organic amendments that would be needed to improve even the imported soil. Since it is highly unlikely to find real topsoil in Georgia, it is often better to improve what you have than import something new and possibly unknown. Purchased topsoil is usually either man-made (consisting largely of bark and sand) or similar to the soil already available on-site. If amended properly, clay soils have benefits that are not found in man-made soils. If you are uncertain of the quality of your soil or how to amend it, take samples to your local county Extension agent for testing. See for information on how to do this. If there is any chance the soil has been contaminated with potentially toxic compounds, ask to have the soil tested for heavy metals.
  • Less start-up work: A flat, well-drained area can be prepared with a tractor or large roto-tiller.
  • Less permanent: An in-ground garden can easily be replaced with another crop or moved to another location.
  • Lower water requirements: In-ground beds won’t dry out as quickly as raised beds and will therefore require less water to maintain.
  • Easier irrigation: Irrigation systems for flat, in-ground gardens are simple to design and easy to install compared to raised beds that require careful design and installation.

While there are many advantages to raised beds, there are also some disadvantages. Raised beds require the construction of a wall or edge restraint. While this can be built with recycled materials, it still requires additional work, at least initially. Elevated raised beds are even more expensive and require some degree of engineering to support the weight of the soil. Raised beds also need to be filled with soil, which can become expensive and requires a good understanding of soils and soil amending. Raised beds are more permanent than in-ground gardens, so planning for future use is essential. Some crops are not well suited to raised bed production. For example, sweet corn requires larger blocks of plants to ensure proper pollination. Watermelons tend to overtake a small raised bed, unless compact varieties are grown and perhaps trellised. Finally, most raised bed gardens rely exclusively on hand labor for all tasks, including planting, fertilizing and weeding.

Before starting a community or school garden, it is important to consider which type of garden is appropriate for your current and future needs and the amount of time and resources your situation will require. See the other publications in this series for more information about planning, creating and sustaining a community or school garden.

Urban Farming

Benefits of Urban Agriculture Development

Urban agriculture is growing quickly in many countries around the world. In developing countries, food is cheap and urban gardens are becoming commonplace. Urban gardening has its environmental benefits as well. This article will discuss some urban farming environmental benefits, urban growth and urban development costs. The costs involved with urban agriculture are not as high as in other areas of farming, but they do exist.

  • Environmental Benefits: Urban agricultural growth is a natural way to counteract environmental pressure from rising food demand and growing urbanization. As urban dwellers produce more waste than they consume, their produce acts as a sink for this waste, reducing landfill use and creating organic fertilizer that helps restore soil fertility. Urban farmers also create more open spaces and improved community systems, allowing children to play outside and allowing residents in urban centres to mingle with those in rural areas.
  • Economic Benefits: There are many positive impacts on the economy of urban areas that include higher production and employment. More people can be employed in urban farming, which creates more demand for land and natural resources. Higher revenues can be earned through increased sales of farm products and increased tourism, especially in developing nations.
  • Social Benefits: Grow your food in a productive and social environment, where you know what you are producing and why. Knowledge sharing allows you to produce what the community needs and desires. Growing urban gardens create bonds among family members and develop neighbourhood markets for fresh food and produce. It teaches you how to respect the land, to care for animals and to have compassion for the people that live in the urban environment. It also allows you to think about the big picture, as urban agricultural development often leads to larger cities and the creation of a better world for everyone.
urban agriculture benefits
  • The Benefits of Urban Agriculture to People at the Local Community Level: Urban agriculture is an important part of urban life. As urban farming becomes more prevalent and integral to urban development, people who live in the urban environment will benefit from improved health, more free time, and an enriched quality of life. Urban gardens create jobs by promoting better nutrition and community commerce. In developing nations, urban gardens help to eliminate poverty by creating economic activity and employment. Some urban farmers have become quite wealthy through urban agricultural production.
  • The Benefits of Urban Agriculture to International Businesses: Urban agricultural production is beneficial to all involved. Large scale urban farming encourages greater investment in technology and the establishment of relationships among urban dwellers and suppliers. This helps urban families to become more self-sufficient and it also leads to international investors’ confidence in urban gardens. Urban farming has created jobs for urban families as well as increased tax income for the urban government. International businesses that operate in urban areas benefit from increased access to urban farmers, consumers and markets. Many international food chains purchase their produce from urban gardens that have been developed through community enterprise.
  • The Benefits of Urban Agriculture to Future Food Security: Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in diseases that have affected people in urban environments, such as allergies, water-borne diseases, obesity and diabetes. Urban agriculture helps to reduce the problems associated with these diseases by increasing nutrition across urban communities. It has also helped to reduce the urban burden on public health and nutrition systems. Urban farmers provide safe, healthy and affordable food. Urban farmers use pesticides and chemicals that are much lower than those used in the past which has helped to reduce air pollution caused by pesticides and fertilizers.

The urban garden has grown into an integral part of the daily lives of many urban dwellers all over the world. It contributes significantly to the economic well-being of urban residents, both directly and indirectly. It is estimated that urban agricultural development contributes around 5% of total GDP in some developing countries such as India and China. Urban farmers have largely contributed to the decline in rural poverty and have also improved urban sanitation, hygiene and health by creating green spaces and water bodies. Urban gardens have become an indicator of urban development throughout the world.

Urban Farming

Gardening can influence and benefit your mental health

Growing greater happiness by gardening

“Interacting with nature, especially with the presence of water, can increase self-esteem and mood, reduce anger, and improve general psychological well-being with positive effects on emotions or behavior,” Hall said. “In fact, moving to homes with greener areas positively influences mental health even after three years.” However, doing your own gardening can have the same effects on your mental health.

Interacting with nature around puts the mind more in touch with the community, Hall said. Exposure to natural settings helps improve the human perceptions of emotional, psychological, and social benefits. Plants are a symbol of life and can influence those around them.

“The reason these social benefits of plants are so important is that when social bonds are severed, or simply absent, society suffers,” he said. “At a time when the polarization and

fragmentation of society is of growing concern; we need to actively seek ways to strengthen human connections among us and build stronger communities.”

“Many of these social benefits experienced during exposure to plants have been documented in both the built environment and the natural environment. We have the ability to build our environment and create gardens to help reach these social and mental benefits plants influence.”

Decreased depression

Being immersed in nature and vegetation were used as active components in a therapeutic horticulture intervention for clinical depression in 2018, said Hall.

“Garden walking and reflective journaling decreased depression scores in older adults.”

Outdoor gardening and plant care exposes people to sunshine and high amounts of vitamin D, a synthesizer of serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical in brains that induces happiness.

Plant filled homes and areas also can boost memory and heighten your attention span, he said. Overall mood improves greatly after spending time in nature.

Reduced anxiety and stress

In high stress times and environments, gardening lends an outlet for keeping the hands and mind busy, Hall said. Hands-on activities like gardening allow the brain to focus on another task.

“Consumers have historically shown an inclination to purchase plants that enhance their quality of life, meaning they will purchase items that positively influence their social, physical, psychological, cognitive, environmental and spiritual well-being,” he said.

“Increased access to green spaces also reduces psychological distress, depression symptoms, clinical anxiety and mood disorders in adults,” Hall said. “Stress reduction and mental restoration occur when individuals live near green areas, have a view of vegetation, or spend time in natural settings.”

Gardening and plant care provide physical activities for people to do, distracting the mind from the things that are stress inducing. Humans have an urge to be surrounded by nature and tend to be in a more relaxed state in a greener environment, Hall said.


Urban Farming

Gardening: A fun hobby that’s good for your health

Gardening may be a fun and relaxing way to get in touch with nature, but did you know that it also has plenty of health benefits? Gardening is an activity that’s good for both the mind and body, and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. Plus, you get to eat the delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs that you grow. So, grab your tools and get in the dirt!

It only takes a little bit of gardening to work up a sweat. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week can help reduce the risk of many health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

You may not think of gardening as exercise, but all the lifting, shoveling and raking involved definitely counts, says Raychel Santo, MA, senior research program coordinator for the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Your brain also benefits from time spent in the garden. Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine is an effective way to boost your mood and de-stress. In fact, gardening has shown to be helpful in reducing the risk of depression. If something is weighing heavily on your mind, gardening can allow you to focus on an activity that will bring you joy.

Don’t forget the health benefits that come from the produce you grow. Gardening is a simple way to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet, and you’re sure to appreciate them even more because you grew them.

When it comes to deciding what to plant, it may be hard to know where to begin. But if you’re new to gardening, keep it simple with produce that’s easy to grow. Santo recommends herbs and greens such as lettuce, kale and collards.

Santo says these foods are not only easy for first-time gardeners, they are also full of important nutrients.


Photo by Michaeljung, courtesy iStockphoto

Gardening is also an excellent opportunity to try new healthy foods that will help you and your family become more adventurous eaters. Growing a variety of produce is as fun as it is healthy. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. Gardening requires some patience, but it’s worth it when you get to dig into a plate of your own fresh produce.

Make sure that you have the proper tools and gear for a safe gardening experience. Santo recommends wearing light, long-sleeved shirts and pants and a hat for protection from the sun, as well as slathering on sunscreen. Wearing gardening gloves is a must to keep yourself safe when pulling weeds and carrying out other tasks that could hurt your hands. And don’t forget to wear mosquito repellent.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons encourages gardeners to take regular breaks and drink enough water. Remember, this is exercise. The organization also suggests making the physical activity in gardening as easy as possible, from sitting on a garden stool to getting close to the objects you want to lift to reduce strain. Using a wheelbarrow is helpful for these kinds of tasks. Ask for help if something is too big or heavy to move by yourself, or if you’re unfamiliar with certain tools.

Soil safety is another thing to keep in mind. Santo notes that especially in urban and suburban areas, soil may be contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants. Soil could also have tetanus bacteria, which is why it’s so important to wear gloves and stay up on vaccinations. That way, any cuts on your hands won’t get infected. It’s a good idea to get your soil tested before you start gardening.

Images courtesy iStockphoto: Woman by Michaelpuche; couple, Michaeljung; man and child, Rawpixel; illustrations, Colorcocktail

Gardening with children

Gardening becomes even more engaging when you bring kids into the picture. They may be focusing on the fun parts of gardening, but they’re really learning important lessons, both directly and indirectly related to health.

“For kids, it’s also a really hands-on nature activity,” Santo told The Nation’s Health. “They can see how science and the environment and healthy eating connect.”

Provide kids with age-appropriate tools and watch over them as they explore the garden. Also give them some way to take ownership and reap the rewards themselves. Santo recommends growing a “pizza garden” with easy-to-grow ingredients for a delicious savory pie, such as tomatoes, eggplant and herbs, all in the same area.

Once the vegetables and herbs have grown, putting together the ingredients for a real pizza is a snap.

  • Copyright The Nation’s Health, American Public Health Association
Urban Farming

Gardening for Climate Change

For millions of Americans, gardening is much more than a hobby—it is a passion. Unfortunately, climate change is threatening the gardening experience across the country. Fortunately, there are actions that you can take to be part of the solution—even while gardening.

Why Gardeners Care

As many gardeners and backyard wildlife enthusiasts across the country have noticed, climate change is already having a significant impact on our backyard habitats.

  • Higher average temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are causing plants to bloom earlier, creating unpredictable growing seasons. Even warm-weather plants like tomatoes can be harmed by increased temperatures.
  • Invasive, non-native plants and animals’ ranges are expanding and making them more apt to take advantage of weakened ecosystems and outcompete native species. Some of the most problematic species, including kudzu, garlic mustard, and purple loosestrife, may thrive under new conditions and move into new areas.
  • Climatic shifts also mean that many native and iconic plants may no longer be able to survive in portions of their historic range. In fact, many states across the country may lose their official State Trees and Flowers. Imagine Virginia without the flowering dogwood or Ohio without the Ohio buckeye!
  • Important connections between pollinators, breeding birds, insects, and other wildlife and the plants they depend on will be disrupted. Pollinators such as hummingbirds and bees may arrive either too early or too late to feed on the flowers on which they normally rely.

These are major warning signs indicating that we need to take meaningful steps now to curb our carbon emissions. Given the strong relationship between gardens and natural variables such as temperature and rainfall, a changing climate will create some enormous new challenges for gardeners. Numerous studies show any potential benefits from a longer growing season will be outmatched by a host of problems—from watering restrictions and damaging storms, to the expansion of unruly weeds and garden pests.

Climate Solutions are in Gardeners’ Hands

Although the predictions for climate change are dire, they are not inevitable. Just as serious consequences are projected, the impacts will be significantly lessened if we take steps now to reduce our carbon pollution. We can also take actions to help both natural and human communities adapt to the changes that are already underway.

Gardeners are both stewards and guardians of our environment, and can make a difference in the fight against climate change. Below are some ideas for how, we can make a difference both in our own backyards and communities, and across the country.

Taking Action in Your Backyard and Community

  • Improve your energy efficiency. Using energy-efficient products and reducing your household’s energy consumption will reduce your contribution to carbon pollution. In your backyard alone, you can replace outdoor light bulbs with high-efficiency LED bulbs, install outdoor automatic light timers, or purchase solar-powered garden products.
  • Reduce the use of gasoline-powered yard tools. Avoid using gasoline-powered tools such as lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Instead, use human-powered tools such as push mowers, hand clippers, and rakes or reduce the amount of lawn area that needs maintenance. Using a gasoline-powered mower for an hour pollutes 10 to 12 times more than the average car.
  • Reduce the threat of invasive species expansion and incorporate diverse native species instead. Removing invasive plants from your garden and choosing an array of native alternatives can minimize the threat of invasive species expansion. Native plants help to maintain important pollinator connections and ensure food sources for wildlife; nonnative plants can outcompete these important native species for habitat and food. Contact your local or state native plant society to find out what plants are native to your area.
  • Reduce water consumption. There are a number of ways to reduce water consumption in your garden, which is particularly important during increased heat waves and droughts. These include mulching, installing rain barrels, adjusting your watering schedule, and using drip irrigation. Practices like mulching also provide nutrients to the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers which take significant amounts of energy to produce.
  • Compost kitchen and garden waste. Composting this waste can significantly reduce your contribution to carbon pollution, especially methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. It also provides an excellent source of nutrients for your garden, again reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Plant lots of trees to absorb carbon dioxide. Trees can absorb and store as much as a ton of carbon pollution (CO2) from the atmosphere. If every one of America’s 85 million gardening households planted just one young shade tree in their backyard or community, those trees would absorb more than 2 million tons of CO2 each year. Shade trees planted near your home can also reduce energy used for cooling in the summer.
  • Connect places for wildlife by certifying your backyard or neighborhood as a Certified Wildlife Habitat™ with the National Wildlife Federation. By certifying your own backyard and encouraging your neighbors to do the same, you can turn your neighborhood into a Community Wildlife Habitat, which can help maintain or reconnect fragmented habitats and provide ways for wildlife to better cope with the impacts of climate change.

Actions for Your Elected Officials

In addition to implementing solutions in your backyards and communities, gardeners can play an important role in moving America toward a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable future by contacting your elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels and urging them to implement a strong plan of action to combat climate change and safeguard people and wildlife from climate change impacts.

Contact your members of congress and let them know that you support the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s first-ever rule to regulate carbon pollution from power plants. This rule will benefit wildlife and our communities and foster the growth of clean energy. Ask your members of congress to vote against any measures to delay or weaken this standard and advocate for protecting our gardens from the impacts of carbon pollution.

Urban Farming

Get Healthy and Save Money by Food Gardening

When economic times are hard, people head to the garden. It happened in the early 20th century with Liberty Gardens, in the 1940s with Victory Gardens, and in the 1970s with the back to the land movement. Similarly, with current concerns about food safety, global warming, carbon footprints, and pollution, along with a desire to build a link to the Earth and our own neighborhoods, food gardening has become a simple and tasty solution.

Improve your health

We all know we’re supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables every day. It isn’t just good advice from mom. Many vegetables are loaded with vitamins A and C, fiber, water, and minerals such as potassium. A growing body of research shows that eating fresh fruits and vegetables not only gives your body the nutrients and vitamins it needs to function properly, but it also reveals that many fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants — specific compounds that help prevent and fight illness.

While specific vegetables and fruits are high in certain nutrients, the best way to make sure you get a good range of these compounds in your diet is to “eat a rainbow.” By eating a variety of different-colored vegetables and fruits, you get all the nutrients you need to be healthy. Eating fruits and vegetables is generally a great idea, but the quality and safety of produce in grocery stores has been increasingly compromised. Whether it’s Salmonella on jalapeño peppers or E. coli in spinach, warnings seem to be happening every year. Also, some people are concerned about pesticide residues on their produce. What better way to ensure a safe food supply free of biological and pesticide contamination than to grow your own? You’ll know exactly what’s been used to grow those beautiful crops.

Save some cash

You can save big money by growing your own vegetables and fruits. In fact, depending on the type and amount you grow, you can save a significant amount of money. By spending a few dollars on seeds, plants, and supplies in spring, you’ll produce vegetables that will yield pounds of produce in summer. Here’s an example of how a 20 foot by 30 foot vegetable garden can save you some cash. The following list provides vegetable yields and the average price per pound (in 2009) of many favorite vegetable crops grown in a 600 sq. ft. garden space.

Get Healthy Save Money Chart

Keep in mind that these are general averages. Yields, after all, can vary depending on your location, variety, and how well the crops grow. The prices are based on national average prices in 2009 from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service for those vegetables, grown organically in summer. Again, these numbers may vary depending on the year and location in the country. However, even with all these variables, you can see that it’s possible to grow more than 300 pounds of produce worth more than $600 just by working your own garden!

If you grew the garden illustrated here, it would yield 350 pounds of vegetables. If you went and purchased those 350 pounds of vegetables in a grocery store, you’d have to pay more than $600 dollars. This garden costs only about $70 to plant—so you’re saving money and getting great food to eat.

Vegetable Garden Design