Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Grow your own - don't wait for the US food supply!

Here are a few of last week's headlines from news outlets in the US and UK and blogs around the world:

Pure and simple, in spite of the abundance of produce you see at grocery stores and farmers' markets, the US does not grow enough fruit or vegetables to provide the recommended "5-a-day" amount to  every person living in the US. In fact, the US grows only about half of the fruit and vegetables needed for this recommendation to optimize overall health. In addition, the scientist who is quoted in this study (Susan Krebs-Smith, PhD of the National Cancer Institute) also noted that people tend to overestimate the amount of exercise they really do, which of course also is a contributor to overall good health. 

How to take those two observations and turn them into a better reality right now (rather than waiting for the USDA to get its agricultural policies in line with the US Dietary Guidelines) - why, plant a garden, of course! I'll bet you knew I was going to say that. :-) 

Here is another little known fact. 

The USDA reports that ~13 million additional acres are needed to grow the produce required in order for the nation to consume the amount of domestically produced fruits and vegetables as recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines. 

Does that seem like an enormous amount of land? Where to obtain those acres? Not a problem!

In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that there are more than 31 million acres of grass, an area equal to the size of the New England states., and over 80% of this grass is found in residential lawns.
(The Lawn Institute, Rolling Meadows, IL)           

This is not difficult math! :-) We have plenty of space in this country to make up this difference and more. Get down, get dirty, get gardening, get healthy!

With cancer centers not only wanting to treat a person's cancer but get them on the way to overall good health, it makes perfect sense to me that combining healthy food and exercise by gardening is a no-brainer so to speak. :-) 

One of the biggest trends is increasing interest in vegetable gardening with 35% of US households participating in food gardening in 2009. (National Gardening Association) I encourage all cancer centers to begin leading by example by planting their own version of a Cancer Victory Garden™ in whatever space they have (using current landscaping space, container gardening, window gardening, roof-top gardens, digging up some of their lawns, even digging up pavement - Cleveland Clinic did this!, etc, etc).

Two additional advantages to consider when advocating gardening for good health:

1) The US currently imports food or ingredients from 150 countries. Growing your own food (and preserving it for use later when it is not available seasonally) increases your personal food security plus the bonus of reducing your family's carbon footprint. Although it may not have affected you personally, the recent havoc with airline flights due to the Icelandic volcano eruption did disrupt food travel between many countries. That was "small and short-lived" by comparison to what could possibly happen in the future from any number of reasons for alterations in global transportation.

2) Growing fruits and vegetables in this country is more expensive than growing commodity crops that are subsidized by the US government (such as corn, soy, wheat as three examples), Growing and thus purchasing organically-raised fruits and vegetables is even more expensive and will be until USDA agricultural policies are changed to actually promote and support the growing of healthy food that is recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines. Growing your own fruits and vegetables organically is easier and less expensive than commercial growers doing so on a large scale. Thus you are able to increase your consumption of healthy foods that are also good for the earth for less cost, increase your real exercise time, get some vitamin D from being outside in the sun, connect with the importance of stewardship of our soil, and even have fun doing so!

Even more reasons and benefits of gardening are in my first posting at my CancerVictoryGardens blog.

I repeat -
Get down, get dirty, get gardening, get healthy! It's time to take all avenues to health into our own hands, literally! :-) Start small, be successful with your first steps, then go big!

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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