submitted by Danielle Labonte, MPH, MAN, RD
Spring is here and people can get to their gardens. Having a garden is a great way to access a variety of fresh and delicious vegetables and fruit, and research shows that those who have a garden eat more vegetables and fruit than those who do not. If you have never gardened before, participating in community gardening can be a helpful way to learn about getting started. Community gardens come in many different shapes and sizes – large or small, on the ground or on rooftops, in plots, or in planters. They can also be a mix of all of these things. Some are communal, where everyone shares the work and the harvest, some have separate, individual plots for each gardener, and some are a combination.
Community gardens provide benefits such as social connectedness and an opportunity to learn something new. In addition to the fresh food they provide, community gardens also contribute to our health through providing the opportunity to be active in nature, spend quality time with others and meet new people, and connect to your community overall. If you are interested in starting or expanding a garden, check out www.foodcoreLGL.ca/inventories.html and click on the yellow “Growingand Gathering Food” icon to learn where you can buy plants and seeds, participate in seed exchanges and, find the locations for local community gardens.
Gardening at Home
While some people choose to participate in community gardening, there are options for those who would like to garden at home instead. One option is container gardening, where you grow vegetables and plants in boxes or bins, instead of in the ground. This way, you can have a garden on your balcony, porch, or deck. Container gardening can include a variety of fruit and vegetables; for example, beets, cabbage, carrots, green onions, lettuce, bok choy, kale, tomatoes, peppers, and radishes. It is helpful to learn about what grows well in different sized containers. In addition to size, you will need to consider container drainage, soil and fertilizing, water and light, planting and grooming, and insects and disease. Try not to get discouraged by this list! Some of these issues are straightforward and easily dealt with, for example, containers don’t have to be a big expense. You could start with a windowsill garden to grow herbs. You can find excellent information about container gardening from Master Gardeners of Ontario, www.landscapeontario.com.
Choosing Locally Grown Food
This is the season to get our gardens started, but some people prefer to get their vegetables and fruit at the grocery store or the farmers’ markets. To get the best out of Ontario’s growing season, choose foods with the “Foodland Ontario” logo at your grocery store, or visit local food markets and farm gates. Choosing local food supports job creation and economic development. Buying food from closer to home means it is fresher. In addition, when you get to know the people who grow and produce your food you may feel more connected to what you eat. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit at meals and snacks and you will have a variety of colours, textures, tastes, vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
One thing to remember is, no matter where your fresh vegetables and fruit come from, all you need to wash them before eating or preparing them is cool, running, safe water. Go to www.healthunit.org for food safety information for garden projects as well as choosing, cleaning,storing, and preparing vegetables.