Even though she’s been growing a garden in one of Provo’s community garden plots for the past four years, Maggie Taylor’s regular visits to the garden have given her a much-needed break from stay-at-home and social distancing directives during this pandemic.

“I have a space to connect with nature and still have something productive to do ... something that remains normal when everything else is not normal,” says the Provo resident who fills her garden with veggies like spinach, lettuce, green beans and tomatoes, as well as flowers like zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers.

Although summer is here, it’s not too late to plant some summer fruits and veggies. You won’t just get produce out of it; you’ll get stress relief, healthier meals, vitamin D exposure and more affordable grocery runs. Here’s why gardening is the perfect activity for your family, especially right now.

Stress relief

Let’s talk about our brains for a moment. A 2010 Harvard study found that people’s minds wander away from what they’re presently doing 47% of the time. The study further determined that a wandering mind actually causes unhappiness.

As Matthew Killingsworth, one of the study’s authors, says, “Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we’re engaged.”

In tough times, giving your full attention to whatever you’re doing can help you be happier. That may be especially true when you choose things that require your full attention, like gardening. One study found “that after 30 minutes of gardening, participants’ cortisol levels dropped and their moods were boosted by the activity.”

Healthier meals

What percentage of American adults would you guess eat enough fruits and vegetables? It turns out that only 12.2% of adults eat enough fruit, and only 9.3% of adults eat enough vegetables. It’s time to get more produce on our plates!

The CDC recommends this as a solution: “As part of a healthy food environment, fruits and vegetables need to be accessible and affordable in the places where children and families spend time.”

Gardening is a great way to get your produce where you spend your time—right in your own backyard! Whether you grill your zucchini or chop up your berries for a fruit salad, there’s something exciting and satisfying about eating food you grew yourself.

Vitamin D exposure

At the beginning of social distancing, some people joked that they would either get in the best shape of their lives—or end up in the worst shape of their lives. Months of Netflix binge-watching later, many of us could use a healthy boost. That’s where a little vitamin D can be helpful. Vitamin D can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk for diabetes, heart attack, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

But can we actually get significant amounts of vitamin D from gardening? As Healthline reports, one study found “30 minutes of midday summer sun exposure in Oslo, Norway was equivalent to consuming 10,000–20,000 IU of vitamin D.” For reference, “the commonly recommended daily dose of vitamin D is 600 IU.” So, yes, working on your garden when the sun is out can help you get the vitamin D you need. Just be sure to wear sunscreen!

More affordable grocery runs

While starting a garden from scratch will take an initial investment, the longer your garden grows, the more money you’ll save. Some plants that are generally cheaper to grow than buy include these:

Tomatoes

Zucchini and summer squash

Leaf lettuce

Green beans

Herbs

Berry bushes

For example, as of June 10, a packet of 1,500 romaine lettuce seeds costs $3.79 at Walmart, whereas a head of romaine lettuce costs $1.74. But comparing the price of home-grown to store-bought goods is like pitting apples against oranges.

“I think that’s where people sometimes lose the true value,” says Costa Georgiadis, an Australian gardening expert and TV personality. “I try and stay away from that direct comparison because I say what else did it provide? It provided the therapy, it provided the relaxation, it provided those health benefits of being outside.”

As society continues to fight this pandemic, we could all use new hobbies that bring us joy and uplift us, body and soul. Gardening helps you feel less stressed, makes healthy eating easier, gives you vitamin D exposure, and saves money on groceries. Don’t have room for a backyard garden? Rent a plot in one of Provo’s community gardens!

For more information about the community gardens, contact me at MValencia@CommunityActionUC.org or (801) 691-5207.

Maria Valencia is the community garden manager for Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo. CASFB is located at 815 S. Freedom Blvd., Ste. 100. For more information on the community gardens, educational programs, how to make donations, upcoming classes, food drives and more, visit www.communityactionprovo.org, or call (801) 373-8200.