Simply growing healthy food may help individuals eat healthy food.
This is the hope of Dr. Liz Applegate of the nutrition department as she studies the effects of gardening on eating habits in her project, Nutrition to Grow On.
This project, which began in February, works with about 15 developmentally disabled participants, including those with various kinds of autism, teaching them about nutritious eating through weekly activities.
“We’re hoping to see that as a result of vegetable gardening, participants choose a more healthy diet,” Applegate said.
Applegate explained that in any group of people, food is used as a reward. Eating fast food or ice cream is part of an activity and this leads to unhealthy eating and obesity. She said that this was a problem especially for this special population. Applegate added that helping these individuals overcome this was one of the reasons that inspired her to develop this project.
“Even older people eat more healthily when they garden,” she said.
Participants in this project are mostly from the Davis community and are a part of a group called Team Davis. Team Davis is a non-profit organization that consists of caregivers and parents of people with special needs. While the students are usually involved in athletic activities such as the Special Olympics, this gardening study provides a different social context in which participants can interact.
“It’s fun to do something that brings people together with a common purpose and focus,” said Robin Dewey, manager of Team Davis. “[The participants] are getting to see their vegetables grow and feel success about it.”
Both Dewey and Applegate admitted that they’d already begun to see results in the participants. Dewey, who is herself mother of one of the participants, admitted that her son Matt was starting to be more conscious of what he was eating after the lessons.
“When he sees different [foods], he’ll comment on the food groups,” she said. “He swore off white bread and is only eating wheat.”
The lessons in the study consist of both classroom lessons as well as garden activities.
Jessica Linnell, a senior nutrition science major, is one of the five student interns on the project who do the actual classroom presentations.
“We cover a variety of things,” she said. “[Like] the food guide pyramid and what different nutrients are. Last Saturday, we talked about which bugs are good or bad for the garden.”
Since not all of the participants can use words to the same level, Applegate said that the curriculum needed to use a different method of visual instructing. Last Saturday’s garden project included worm boxes and learning about bugs, weeds and how to break down compost into dirt.
Applegate expressed a lot of hope for the future of this experiment. She said the project has been showing positive results but nothing could be determined until the final results can be obtained when the study ends in June.
“We’re basically halfway through the study,” she said. “And it’s nice that parents are noticing positive changes at this stage.”
Applegate, with the help of a garden coordinator, will personally keep the garden going at the Experimental Colleges after the study ends.
AKSHAYA RAMANUJAM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.