Planting Seeds of Good Health

By Christine Zachek

I don’t pretend to have a green thumb, but I accepted the challenge of growing a small tomato plant in my windowsill this summer. It is satisfying to eat something fresh that I grew with my own hands. Consumption of fruits and vegetables are far below what is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines. On average, children consume only 64% of the recommended level of fruit and 46% of the recommended vegetables.

The challenge that many urban communities face is lack of access to affordable healthy foods. USDA estimates that 23.5 million people, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket. These so-called “food deserts” often have more convenience stores and fast-food restaurants than supermarkets or grocery stores. Fresh fruits and vegetables are priced high, if they are available at all.

The point of all this? Lack of healthy choices leads to poor nutrition, with implications being that nearly one out of every three children is overweight or obese. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign calls on the nation to eliminate the problem of childhood obesity in one generation.

My next challenge: cultivating a plot in a community garden.

Community gardens can provide children with good food to combat obesity and they can transform unused vacant lots into positive and productive space, even an oasis for residents to enjoy nature, meet and work together. Care must be taken to ensure that the soil is free from environmental contaminants, so that the food grown there is safe to eat. EPA offers tips and assistance to help communities with this effort. Read more about starting your own community garden.

Planting the seeds of good health and community through urban gardens is a step in the right direction to providing our children with nutritious foods and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

About the author: Christine Zachek works in the EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection.

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