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Urban Agriculture Increased Nutrition and Quality of Food

Daily intake of a variety of fruits and vegetables is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Urban agriculture is associated with increased consumption of fruits and vegetables which decreases risk for disease and can be a cost-effective way to provide citizens with quality, fresh produce in urban settings.

People are more likely to try new vegetables when they take an active role in the planting and cultivation of an urban garden. Produce from urban gardens can be perceived to be more flavorful and desirable than store bought produce which may also lead to a wider acceptance and higher intake. A Flint, Michigan study found that those participating in community gardens consumed fruits and vegetables 1.4 more times per day and were 3.5 times more likely to consume fruits or vegetables at least 5 times daily (p. 1). Garden-based education can also yield nutritional benefits in children. An Idaho study reported a positive association between school gardens and increased intake of fruit, vegetables, vitamin A, vitamin C and fiber among sixth graders.

Urban gardening improves dietary knowledge. Inner city youth of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota who were part of a community garden intervention were better able to communicate specific nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables on the body than those who had not participated in a community garden. Community gardeners were also found to consume fewer sweet foods and drinks in a Philadelphia study.

The nutrient content of produce from an urban garden may be higher due to decrease in time between production and consumption. A 30-50% nutrient loss can happen in the 5–10 days it takes to travel from farm to table. Harvesting fruits and vegetables initiates the enzymatic process of nutrient degradation which is especially detrimental to water soluble vitamins such as ascorbic acid and thiamin. The process of blanching produce in order to freeze or can reduces nutrient content slightly but not nearly as much as the amount of time spent in storage. Harvesting produce from one’s own community garden cuts back on storage times significantly.

Urban agriculture also provides quality nutrition for low income households. Studies show that every $1 invested in a community garden yields $6 worth of vegetables, if labor is not considered a factor in investment. Many urban gardens reduce the strain on food banks and other emergency food providers by donating shares of their harvest and provide fresh produce in areas that otherwise might be food deserts. The supplemental nutrition program Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have partnered with several urban gardens nationwide to improve the accessibility to produce in exchange for a few hours of volunteer gardening work.

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