Home gardening is on the rise since COVID-19, says Rose Hayden-Smith, Emeritus advisor at the University of California. But activists from food justice organizations argue that home gardening has the potential to promote emotional wellness, especially for Black women and other marginalized communities.
Home vegetable gardening can not only increase produce consumption and physical activity—it is also associated with improved emotional wellbeing, according to a recent study from Princeton University. The report finds that out of 15 daily leisure activities, such as walking and biking, vegetable gardening is one of the most beneficial activities for mental and emotional health.
“Gardening combines so many things that are positive for mental health—being outdoors around plants and nature, physical exercise,” Diana Martin, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Rodale Institute, tells Food Tank. “Something about growing food, connecting with the earth, and sharing the bounty with your neighbors and community can help you feel rooted, connected, and grateful.”
In response to the influx of home gardeners during COVID-19, the Rodale Institute offers a free Victory Gardens Starter Kit complete with an Organic Gardening 101 webinar, composting tips, and lesson plans to involve children.
Home gardening may also address some effects of long-standing social inequalities. Women, especially women of color, have disproportionately shouldered social care work during the pandemic, according to a recent study in the Journal of Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy. And this work may contribute to poor mental health in those responsible for it, according to a report from the Swiss School of Public Health.
“From an equity perspective, supporting household gardening would provide more benefits for women and low-income gardeners,” Dr. Ramaswami, co-author of the Princeton University study, tells Food Tank. She explains that home gardening was the only activity studied that had a greater impact on emotional wellbeing for women and people with low income, compared to men and people with medium-and high incomes.
Jasmine Jefferson, founder of Black Girls With Gardens, also believes that gardening can be a tool for self-care. An online platform, Black Girls With Gardens provides education, support, inspiration, and community for women of color interested in gardening.
Jefferson noticed that her website has gained popularity since COVID-19, as more Black women began home gardening.
“Gardening is an act of self-preservation for Black women,” Jefferson tells Food Tank. “We are able to release our rage in the soil and still not be judged by nature.
Despite the benefits of home gardening, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities have been systematically disenfranchised from growing their own food, Jefferson says. She argues that food deserts, lack of access to quality soil and compost, and white-dominated gardening groups with expensive membership dues all work to keep women of color out of gardening.
“We are resisting systematic racist policies and procedures…when we make the space to grow our own food,” Jefferson tells Food Tank. “Black women deal with very stressful environments, high anxiety, and trauma on [a] daily basis. Gardening can be the escape black women need from that harsh reality of the world.”
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash, Benjamin Combs