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  • Caryn Zinn

A covid-19 response - finding a better connection

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

As bread, flour and sugar disappear from the supermarket shelves amidst what seems like the onset of a zombie apocalypse, Kiwi’s may need to look into alternative ways to nourish themselves and their families -starting with their own backyard.

The coronavirus pandemic hit the world hard and fast, there is no denying that. Every person in New Zealand has been somewhat affected by the pandemic, either financially, physically, mentally or socially. This is especially prominent among our more vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly and the poor, who will take the financial burden of jobs losses and increased living costs.

Food is more expensive than ever. The price of fruit and vegetables rose 3% in March making it even more difficult to sustain a healthy, wholesome diet. Food insecurity continues to grow across New Zealand and the Salvation Army handed out more than 5895 food packages to those in need in just one week in April - a 346% rise compared to the week before lockdown. Not only has the coronavirus caused mass disruption and economic crisis, but it’s also changed the way we live our lives, interact with others, work and study - causing additional stress and uncertainty. Due to the closing of gyms, hiking trails and many public facilities in Alert Level 4, staying active and training while at home may also be challenging for many people. These detrimental impacts are being felt globally and there is a push for innovative ways for individuals to fight financial hardship and be resilient to the various impacts of the virus.

Localised food systems are being proposed as an alternative to commercial products and there has been a huge sales increase of edible plants in nurseries. Home and community gardening doesn’t only offer a cheaper, healthier and more sustainable way of living – but it may just offer a better connection than your daily digital Zoom meetings. Food gardening is both therapeutic and a source of fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables; both needed in abundance during today’s challenging times.

The mental and physical benefits of gardening are endless: it has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and body mass index; as well as an increased quality of life and sense of community. A regular connection with nature has been recognised to have substantial health benefits and is widely used as a form of preventative medicine . Gardening provides this green connection and is not only a cost-effective health intervention, but also a form of therapy for those with psychological health issues, known as “horticulture therapy”.

A more indirect benefit of gardening is that it encourages light to moderate physical activity, which is linked to various positive physical and psychological outcomes. Not to mention, it’s a great way to get the kids out of the house and exercising! Youth gardening programmes have been shown to improve dietary, academic and developmental outcomes, particularly nutrition-enhanced programmes that resulted in an increased intake of fruit and vegetables. However, it is important to consider that many people do not have the time, space, skills or adequate resources to ‘grow your own’ and that is where the beauty of community gardening is recognised.

Community gardens were created for the purpose of growing food and learning with others in a community space. These gardens are used by, and beneficial to all involved, regardless of age, ethnicity and socio-economic status. More than just growing nutritious food, community gardens are perfect for greening unused space, encouraging environmental sustainability and healthy eating, increasing food security and providing a green space for education. Most importantly, community gardens provide interactions between people in communities that create and reinforce social ties, local networks and a sense of community. After the Christchurch Earthquakes, community gardens provided a safe space for people to de-stress, gain community support and share experiences. Similar, psychological consequences are likely to arise from this traumatic event, so now is the time to take action. With social distancing disabling social gatherings, it may be a good time to plan your own community garden, connect with local gardening groups online or start up a food share-point in your suburb.

It’s important to acknowledge that community gardens have been used throughout history when times were tough and food was scarce. The great depression, World War 2, and the 2009 global recession presented challenging financial insecurity and increased food prices -which encouraged a ‘grow your own’ attitude among those struggling. The coronavirus crisis poses a similar threat and will do for the months to come. It is crucial that we adopt practises like community gardening in order to create resilient communities in adverse conditions. Growing your own garden is a perfect way to secure our food futures when money is tight and shelves are empty, ensuring the continued health and wellness of ourselves and our communities; as well as bringing us back ‘down to earth’ when normality seems a little far off.

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