Nutrition from the Ground Up: Organic gardening for optimal nutrition

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Prepared by: Tricia Sedgwick, R.H.N.  

Nutrients in Fresh Produce

Have you ever wondered why fresh produce from the grocery store can lack flavour or even be tasteless? Or have you compared the taste of a conventional supermarket tomato to a fresh plucked, organically grown, warm, juicy, sun-kissed tomato off the vine? If you have the tasted sun ripe fruits and vegetables straight from the earth you may have noticed they are bursting with flavour.

I learned long ago in my organic gardening ventures that vitamins and minerals are responsible for the flavour in our food.  On average, most produce will lose 30 percent of its nutrients 3 days post harvest. Spinach and other leafy greens will lose up to 90% of its vitamin C with in the first 24 hours of harvesting!

Food Less Traveled

When the average meal travels about 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) before it hits your plate, the consequences are both environmental and nutritional. While the large quantities of fossil fuels are polluting our air and water, the post harvest nutritional degradation is negatively impacting our health.

At the grocery store you will notice produce from half way across the world that has traveled much more than 3 days to get there. Additionally, it may take up to a week before you prepare and consume it at home! Modern day food production and distribution is largely contributing to nutrient deficiencies and various related health problems from obesity to cardiovascular disease.

So now what?

Organic Gardening to the Rescue

Through my years as an urban farmer and nutritionist I have learned that organic gardening comes in many forms.  Whether you have a spacious back yard or live in a small condo there are many ways you can grow food at home. Access to freshly harvested produce will supply your body with a higher level of antioxidants, minerals and nutrients as well as protect you from chemical preservatives and technologies, such as irradiation, that are used for long distance food shipping. Read on to see what solution fits for you!

A Fresh Start

The nutritional benefits of enjoying freshly harvested produce ranges from increased vitamin C to higher levels of trace minerals and antioxidants. Trace minerals function as antioxidants, spark enzyme function and support hormone balance.  Not only have I personally enjoyed increased energy and mental clarity from the fruits of organic gardening but my clients report the many benefits of consuming these nutrient dense foods.

This brings us to what to grow and why – lets start with a few simple tips to get you growing for your own fresh start.

Luckily, some of the most nutrient dense foods are the easiest to grow, require minimal space and offers numerous harvests. If you are limited on time, space and resources, these vegetables of choice are still for you.

5 Simple ways you can use organic gardening to boost your nutrition:

  1. Herbs: Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow and they are the most concentrated form of nutrition with medicinal properties. You can grow them inside year round. If you are in a temperate climate with mild winters you can grow herbs like rosemary and thyme all year long – eventually you will have enough for all your neighbours and friends! Annual herbs like basil will give you one season but you can still enjoy numerous harvests from the same plant! If you are new to the game I would look for a herb kit like this one here.
  2. Leafy Greens: Lettuce, kale, chard, mizuna, arugula and other leafy greens take little space (you can grow them in pots on the patio) and they provide you with multiple harvests. If I had to choose one green, it would be kale. Ranking as the most nutrient dense plant, it is highly versatile for cooking and you can enjoy its kale buds and flowers in the spring.  I have enjoyed fresh kale harvests during many mild winters.
  3. Fast Growing Plants: If you want to try different crops that don’t take up space for months at a time, then choose faster growing plants like radish. Radish matures in as little as 3 weeks! Spinach, snap peas, runner beans and leafy lettuces all mature in under 2 months.
  4. Grow Smart: Many plants are happy to grow vertical giving you more space and higher crop yields. Vines like cucumbers, peas, beans and other summer squash are the best candidates. I love having weeks of cucumber coming at me in the summer, helping to keep the body hydrated and cool.
  5. Grow Garlic this Winter: You plant a few cloves of garlic in the fall and by summer you get beautiful bulbs to harvest – it amazes me every time! You will see little shoots come up in the spring that require little tending to. The flavour and benefits of garlic are both immense providing you with many anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of growing food, consider making it a priority to grow just one of your favourite vegetables. You will notice yourself getting excited about the miraculous sprouting process, the pride you feel at the sight of the first sprout and the rewarding feeling of tasting the food you co-created with nature.

If you would like more space, look up community gardens in your neighbourhood. They  are a great way to access more variety while learning from others gardeners. Sharing food has never tasted so good!

What you can’t grow on your own, fill in the gaps by heading to your local farmers market where you are supporting local and organic gardening/farming methods as well as your health. Many farmers are harvesting the morning of the market, maximizing flavour and nutrition.

I also love to recommend that people look into their local CSAs (community support agriculture) or home delivery services like SPUD that support local farms.

Make organic gardening a focus this Earth Day (and every day)! What is good for the planet is good for your health. Happy planting!

-Posted April 2017-

Tricia is the founder of TWIG an urban farm project that teaches community and youth on the benefits of eating local and organic food. She is a nutrition educator and consultant with a focus on eating sustainably, health aging and nutritional cleansing. Tricia also has a passion for yoga and you can find her practicing and teaching Arkaya yoga. Stay tuned for her newest business venture, Becoming.

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