We can all have a green thumb

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Hailey Stessman
CONTRIBUTOR

Gardening is a gateway into adopting a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, offering environmental, psychological, and physical benefits. Graphic by Philly Nevada/the Gateway

It’s been a rule ingrained in our minds since childhood: Make sure to eat your fruits and veggies. As children, the task of filling up our plates with carrots or grapes was an unachievable feat. Broccoli would somehow “accidentally” fall off the table, landing by the dog’s paws. Fruit would be played with rather than eaten.

Yet, now as we embark on the journey to adulthood, we have to make healthy produce a priority. Broccoli, among other vegetables, now makes its way onto our shopping lists, and fruit is put into our carts. But, trying to maintain a healthy diet on a daily basis can become costly and tricky.

If only there was a way to practice healthy living in a convenient and meaningful way while creating lasting relationships with fellow friends and the earth.

Recently, three raised garden beds have been constructed east of Allwine Hall as a result from an ongoing project from the Sustainability Community of Practice faculty members and students from a Sustainability Capstone class in the fall of 2015. The on-campus community garden will provide opportunities for students to learn how to maintain a garden, understand agricultural living and recognize the benefits gardening has across many levels.

The garden will provide crops such as strawberries, kale, carrots and basil for the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Food Services Kitchen, the Maverick Food Pantry and other local community pantries, according to UNO biology professor Steve Rodie.

But why is a garden necessary? Wouldn’t it save a lot of time and effort to simply pick out your desired produce, already wrapped in plastic, perfectly ripened and cut to eat?

Gardening is a gateway into adopting a sustainable and healthy lifestyle. It offers environmental, psychological and physical benefits, along with providing a look into what it truly takes to grow a full meal. According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, it takes approximately 1,500 miles for meals to travel from the farm, to the grocery store, to our plates. With the integration of an on-campus garden, those extra “food miles” could be avoided (and gas could be saved from not visiting the grocery store), thus reducing the amount of emissions being pumped into the air. Even just the existence of the garden will improve air quality.

An on-campus garden also encourages students to explore the various aspects of ecosystems and how different components of the environment interact with one another.

“We will also incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects and/or repel harmful insects, attempt to show how garden space can be maximized for production and show that a garden can look nice and be educational, as well as be productive,” Rodie said.

Not only is it an opportunity to learn about sustainability, it is a chance for students to bring what they have learned into their future. They will have acquired the skills to create their own home garden or start collaborative gardens within their own communities.

The effects of gardening go beyond physical environmental results. Actively participating in gardening brings forth many health and psychological benefits that can often go overlooked.

Theodore Roszak, a scholar and author, introduced the idea of “ecotherapy” which includes the therapeutic benefits of immersing oneself in nature. We, as humans, are connected to the earth we are standing on. Allowing ourselves to truly connect with the earth opens up a door to practicing mindfulness and viewing nature in a whole new light. There’s something satisfying about physically planting a seed within the ground and later reaping the reward by picking a fresh tomato off the vine.

With the high stress college can give students, gardening can be an outlet to release any unnecessary stress. According to a study published by the “Journal of Health Psychology,” individuals had lower cortisol levels and an increased positive mindset after spending time outside gardening.

Not to mention, gardening also encourages individuals to learn how to cook with their new abundance of fresh produce.

Although there are many short- and long-term benefits that come with gardening, it’s not always possible for everyone to find access or room to start their own complete garden. However, there are still a few ways to sustainably participate in the practice of gardening. Try to shop for in-season produce from local farmers at produce stands or at farmers markets. If you have no yard space, plant up a couple of pots with peppers, tomatoes or herbs and set them on your deck or porch. If you have no outdoor space at all, find a windowsill that gets sufficient light and plant a few small pots full of herbs. Just because they’re in containers doesn’t mean it’s not a garden!

The on-campus garden at UNO will also be open for all students to dig their hands into the soil and bring home some fresh food.

You don’t have to know every cultivar of pepper or have acres of land to be considered a gardener. Gardening shouldn’t be something you have to stress over. It’s a time to relax, learn about the wonders of nature and be a steward of the environment. The smallest of effort, and the smallest of gardens, makes a big difference.

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