Feel-good gardening: How edible gardening can benefit your mental health.

If you think that edible gardening is all about the delicious end-product, think again! Research shows us that it can also be great for our mental health, in many different ways. Natalie from the FFH team looks at some of the ways that we can benefit mentally from edible gardening.

I spent much of last weekend researching cucumber recipes. Is it too much to have cucumber in an entrée and a main? What about a cucumber dessert, is that pushing it? I had finally managed to grow a vegetable to a great size for eating, and I wanted to showcase it in everything! As it turns out, I am not alone in feeling proud of my small gardening feat. Prior to the Food from Home campaign launch, the team at enliven surveyed South East Melbournians and found that almost 80% found that a sense of achievement is one of the most appealing parts of growing food at home.

My enjoyment from growing my cucumber didn’t just come from being able to eat it. Joy also came from the process of growing; spending time each day in the garden, asking my neighbour for her growing tips and finally inviting family over to share my 3-course cucumber dinner. Similarly, the mental health benefits of edible gardening don’t only come from eating the fruits and vegetables that you grow. The process of gardening itself supports mental health and can provide benefits to your mental health. Indeed, for the locals in the South East who were already edible gardeners, almost 65% nominated mental health/wellbeing as the one of the main reasons why they grow food at home.

“My veggie patch is in my front yard and I engage with heaps of passers-by. From there I share produce, seeds, knowledge, joy and plants.”

South East Melbourne Growing Food at Home Survey

Defining Mental Health
Mental health can be a difficult concept to define. Often, it is used as a substitute term for mental health conditions (such an anxiety or depression), but mental health is an important part of our overall health. The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of wellbeing that allows individuals to realise their own abilities, cope with normal stresses in life, work or study productively and contribute to their community.

Edible gardening can benefit people with mental health conditions, as well as helping to promote mental health for all people.

Gardening to promote mental health
There are many different aspects of edible gardening that are beneficial. Below are some examples of how edible gardening can help us to maintain or improve our mental health.

Connection to nature:

Before you even get your hands into the soil, just being in a garden can benefit your mental health! Research has shown that everything from looking at a view of nature through a window, to having green areas nearby can benefit aspects of your mental health. These include improved mood, wellbeing by reducing the impact of stressors.

Here are some ways to immerse yourself in the benefits of nature during your edible gardening journey:

  • Consider including non-edible elements that might encourage you to spend more time in your garden. These could include trees for shade, a bench, chair, or table.
  • If you do not have a yard or garden at home think about the way you can transform other spaces, such as your balcony or windowsill to a green space. Alternatively, think about visiting a local public park or community garden to spend some time in nature.
  • If there are activities that you love doing to relax or unwind, consider doing these in the garden. The next time you want to do a puzzle, read a book or play cards, think about doing this in your garden.

Social interaction:

The act of developing a garden, as well as enjoying the produce that you grow, can help you to form social connections in your local community and develop a sense of belonging and inclusion. Research has demonstrated that social connectedness can benefit mental health and reduce distress. Specific research into gardening has also shown that involvement in at-home or community gardening can reduce loneliness, improve social connection and benefit wellbeing.

Here are some ways to encourage social contact during your edible gardening journey:

  • Taking part in a community garden is also a great way to connect with people in your neighbourhood, and can offer opportunities for social connection and knowledge exchange. A Community Garden Directory is coming soon! Subscribe here to our newsletter to stay updated.
  • Try gardening in the front yard. One of the FFH survey respondents found this a great conversation starter with their neighbours: “My veggie patch is in my front yard and I engage with heaps of passers-by. From there I share produce, seeds, knowledge, joy and plants.”
  • Consider involving others in growing, harvesting, or eating the produce that you grow. You could have a working bee with friends to help you establish your edible garden, have your kids help with harvesting, or organise a meal with family to enjoy and showcase the delicious food that you have grown.
  • The Food from Home Community Facebook group is a great way to connect with local edible gardeners and share your gardening tips or questions.

Eating fruit and vegetables:

What you grow in your edible garden can also benefit your mental health. Research has shown that fruit and vegetable intake can support good mental health.

Here are some ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake in your edible garden:

  • Grow what you like to eat and what you eat most often.
  • One survey participant found that their edible garden also led them to find new things that they loved to eat. “I can grow things that are never available in stores (like Jerusalem artichokes) and try some new things. [My] favourite herb [that I] only tried since growing, is lovage.”
  • Consider growing different produce than your friends and family. This way, you can share what you grow and try a variety of fruits and vegetables. You can also attend local crop-swaps to try and learn about what other locals are growing in their garden.

The next time you’re in your garden, relax and stay a little longer. Do not underestimate the benefits of having an edible garden. Not only are you doing your bit to help the environment, but you are helping to take care of your own mental health.

– Natalie (FFH team) 🌱

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