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What is it about gardens? They seem to be showing up everywhere these days. Of course, there is the obvious health benefit derived from incorporating fresh produce into one’s diet. But there’s more.

A 2016 study published in Preventative Medicine Reports found “robust evidence” for the positive effects of gardening on health, saying that gardening can “improve physical, psychological and social health, which can, from a long-term perspective, alleviate and prevent various health issues facing today's society.”

Another study showed that children who participated in gardening projects scored higher in science achievement than those who did not.

Growing and preparing one's own food is not only healthy, economical and good exercise -- it can give people a sense of control over their own well-being. Gardens also seem to be a natural place to foster cooperation, community and even healing.

St. Monica’s Behavioral Health would agree. St. Monica’s clients are women struggling with addiction and sometimes mental health issues. Gardens there are helping the women learn important life skills and providing an opportunity for those who are mothers to bond with their children through a healthy activity. Community Crops and UNL Extension partnered with St. Monica’s and some volunteer master gardeners to create the St. Monica gardens.

A different group of women escaping domestic violence found courage and solidarity in working a plot together in a community garden, one of 10 around the city supported by Community Crops, accommodating about 1,000 gardeners.

Southern Heights Presbyterian Church’s Food Forest partnered with Crops, the Dimensions Outdoor Education Program and Nature Explore to create an outdoor classroom for kids in the midst of the church's two-acre garden. Other faith communities in Lincoln, including First Presbyterian and MiddleCross Church, also host neighborhood gardens. All see the gardens as part of an outreach ministry to meet the needs of their neighbors.

Faith-based schools are also sprouting gardens. St. Patrick’s Catholic School, for example, has installed raised-bed vegetable gardens, incorporating a “Harvest of the Month” into its curriculum.

One challenge with gardens is, of course, that the best growing season doesn’t necessarily coincide with the school year. Enter the “tower garden.” Tower gardens are indoor vertical growing systems that can grow vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers year round on, as the name implies, a tower. The towers plug into an electrical source and grow plants with only water and nutrients rather than dirt. One of the first tower gardens in the city sits at Christ Lutheran Schools. Christ Lutheran embraced the "farm and garden to table" concept early on, creating a salad bar with produce from a local producer, Green Schools Farm, and its own indoor and outdoor gardens.

The value of gardens and gardening to child health has not gone unnoticed by Lincoln Public Schools, either. School gardens are a part of a sustainability strategy that includes composting, recycling, water and energy conservation. There are currently 27 outdoor school gardens, in addition to a number of tower gardens, including Prescott Elementary, the first public school in the city to install a tower. Prescott’s tower complements the school’s outdoor garden, both part of a curriculum in the classroom and after-school programming. The towers and the outdoor gardens give kids hands-on opportunities to learn about the science of growing, while also providing fresh air, exercise and good nutrition. Learn more at lps.org/recycling.

If you’re interested in starting your own garden, you can find gardening-related classes and educational resources from UNL Extension at lancaster.unl.edu/yard-garden.

If you’d like to have or share a plot in a community garden, or are interested in starting a garden at your church, business or shared neighborhood space, contact Community Crops at communitycrops.org.

To learn more about Lincoln’s efforts to foster environmental stewardship, education and sustainable living, check out the Earth Day Celebration on April 27 at Union Plaza, on 21st Street between O and“Q streets (lincolnearthday.org).

For more information on topics in this column, check out the LNKTV Health “Health and the City” video playlist on YouTube.com/LNKTVhealth.

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Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVhealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you "Health and the City," a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that impact community wellness. Direct questions or comments to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org.

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L Magazine editor

Mark Schwaninger is L magazine and Neighborhood Extra editor.

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