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“Home gardens can transform ‘hungry’ homes”
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“Home gardens can transform ‘hungry’ homes”

Growing food at home has benefits beyond providing nutritious food, writes Bhagya Wijayawardane, 28, a Correspondent from Colombo, Sri Lanka. She’s working to bring home gardens to marginalised urban residents.

As part of the local effort to fight food insecurity, eliminate vitamin A deficiency and nutritional blindness, and to improve physical growth among school children and infants in Sri Lanka, I founded a community organization named ESHKOL.

Today, ESHKOL implements a home gardening and nutrition education project in Sri Lanka.

The initial test was carried out at my home roof top to fight boredom and continue to enjoy my food cravings after a long career break. Gradually, it turned out to be a pilot project that was intended to see whether promotion of low-cost vegetable gardens combined with nutrition education might be a viable strategy for improving the nutritional levels of at-risk populations, such as low income families living in slums and streets, the near-landless, and particularly women and young children in urban communities.

After two years of experimentation, today, our home gardening project contributes to household food security by providing direct access to food that can be harvested, prepared and fed to family members, often on a daily basis. It involves a variety of garden space that can be identified as home, mixed, roof top, backyard, kitchen, farmyard, compound or homestead gardens, or a family food production system. We help people learn the art of urban gardening to enable them to believe that “Anybody Can Grow” despite other short comings. We even work with very poor, landless people in the urban communities, gardening on small patches of homestead land, vacant lots, roadsides or edges of a field, or in containers, giving hope for a secure future.

It is important to let people know that gardening may be done with virtually no economic resources, with the use of locally available planting materials, green manures, live fencing and indigenous methods of pest control. Home gardening at some level is a production system that the poor can easily enter with the right tools and knowledge that ESHKOL provides.

Gardening provides a diversity of fresh foods that improve the quantity and quality of nutrients available to the family, especially to low income families that depend largely on food pantry programs or on imperishable foods. Households with gardens typically can grow more than 50 per cent of their supply of vegetables and fruits (including such secondary staples as banana, cassava, sweet potato), medicinal plants and herbs – under the right conditions and with proper care. Those households having garden systems that include animal-raising also obtain their primary and often only source of animal protein.

Since we cannot eat, drink, or breathe without plants, it becomes very important for human life to adjust to a healthy life style and find alternative ways to manage change and become self-reliant. Daily gardening chores like watering, weeding, trellising, mulching, and harvesting are also great ways to augment an exercise regimen for an urban population. At the same time, it is essential to bear in mind that gardening is generally not a substitute for focused cardio and strength training, however, it combines low-impact exercise with other benefits we can’t get at a gym in our neighbourhoods.

Taking time every morning and evening to tend to the veggies might seem trivial, but research and a number of testimonials shows that being in natural surroundings can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and improve concentration. Becoming close to nature proves to be a significant factor in challenging any number of diseases and disorders.

Vegetable and fruit gardening gives us positive feelings of self-sufficiency, for we have fresh homegrown produce that can ease our concerns about providing for our friends and families. Successful gardening helps us in planning, problem solving and creativity. There is so much to learn even for the highly educated gardener, for he will never find himself without something to study while waiting for the ground to thaw.

We know that local food is often, if not always, better food, so the produce harvested from our backyard or a local community garden is fresher, more nutritious and better tasting than produce that is often picked before it is ripe and shipped to the grocery store. As shared earlier, we easily recognise the benefit of home gardens to our diets and our budgets, but often overlook how gardening contributes to environmental conservation. By cutting the commodity chain short, urban gardens help us conserve resources used in transportation and reduce the packaging waste that ends up in the landfill. It also keeps our city clean and beautiful, providing a relaxed and healthy environment to live in.

Photo credit: Stephen D. Melkisethian Steve’s Garden 2017 Still Life via photopin (license)

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About me: I am an educator with a strong passion for global sustainability and social justice. My experience weaves together environmental education, home gardens as social reconciliation, cultural heritage, peacebuilding, development, communication, and humanitarian assistance for I/NGOs.

I am a Queens Young Leaders’ Award Winner and currently co-lead the first Urban Gardening Project in Sri Lanka.

I seek to make organic gardening accessible to all by researching and developing best practices and designs, and have been a trainer with numerous development organisations.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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