Search for Excellence in Consumer or Commercial Horticulture
1 EXTENSION AGENT, , Princeton, WV, 24740
2 Extension Agent, WVU Extension, Spencer, WV, 25276
3 Extension Specialist, WVU Extension, Charleston, WV, 25304
Gardening is positively associated with improved diet quality and lower Body Mass Index which can play a role in improving health outcomes on individual and population levels (Algert et al, 2016). In several studies, adult and youth populations show improvements in vegetable consumption when gardening. Other benefits associated with gardening include increased food security among lower income populations, improved stress relief and other psychosocial measures of health (Galhena 2013, Cases et al. 2016).
Beginning in 2018, West Virginia’s SNAP Ed and WVU Extension have combined horticultural production and nutritional education through the Grow This! Program. A state-wide social media and community outreach campaign to increase awareness, interest and participation in gardening, Grow This! has an overall goal of improving diet quality and food security among participants. 36,734 people throughout WV participated in 2020, receiving free seeds, grower guides for the vegetables, weekly educational Facebook posts, or engaging in ask the expert sessions or in-person events. Some participants had never gardened before; others gardened many years before and were eager to try again. 21,773 received an electronic newsletter over 31 weeks.
444 of these individuals responded to the post-participation survey. Respondents indicated that because of the campaign they ate, shared, and preserved the produce they grew. 46% ate more vegetables than before, therefore increasing diet quality; 29% reported increased food security and food self-reliance, and 17% of respondents reduced grocery bills. One participant said, “during this crisis we have been having issues of there not being much food on the shelves in the store, so we want to grow some vegetables of our own to eat and possibly can for later.” The Grow This! Challenge has extended beyond WV. The program was replicated in three other states; Oregon’s debut had over 975 sign-ups within the first two days of advertisement.
WVU Extension Service continues to develop partnerships and programming to combat food insecurity. Grow This! has expanded with collaborations across Extension program units, identifying those interested in gardening, food preservation, and nutrition. 31,000 contacts are now participating in the newsletter and five new Grower Guides are in production.