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Socioeconomic inequalities in health

Pandemic highlights benefits of gardening

The covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the health and social benefits of gardening virtually worldwide. It has reinforced the call for local food systems as traditional supply chains have been severely disrupted in many areas. A new international study printed in the prestigious journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, co-authored by Jan Vávra of SYRI National Institute and the Institute of Sociology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, also highlights the importance of the topic in the context of climate change.

Gardening can be one of the keys to increasing individual and collective resilience in the future. During the pandemic and other crises, this activity has served, among other things, as a means of alleviating anxiety, as it offers contact with nature, encourages spending time outdoors and offers the opportunity to meet people in a safe outdoor environment. "We can also look at gardening as a psychosocial intervention in the broader context of crises related not only to the covid-19 pandemic but also to climate change," said Jan Vávra, based on the study. A total of 26 scientists from nine countries (namely Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, the UK, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the USA) participated in the study. The only co-author from Central and Eastern Europe was a representative of SYRI and the Institute of Sociology.

In the Czech Republic, gardening has been widespread for a long time. The most important motivation is the possibility to have one's own fresh and healthy food, which can be included under the so-called food sovereignty, i.e. the possibility to choose one's own food sources. In the Czech Republic, 53 per cent of households are growing fruit and another 7 per cent are considering it. "For a fifth of growing households, their own food is an important source, comparable to or even more important than shopping in stores," Vávra said. In the Czech Republic, as in other countries, areas for gardening are often under pressure and are declining, especially in large cities.

Meanwhile, the pandemic has reinforced the call for more localised food systems. This is illustrated by the researchers in a new study with several examples. In Denver, USA, for example, local pandemic initiatives handed out 800 garden boxes with instructions on how to grow vegetables and herbs in a 3 x 3 m plot for a family of four. The programme has led to improved self-sufficiency of individuals in growing food for their families (75%), reduced food expenditure (69%), increased consumption of fruit and vegetables (60%), increased time spent outdoors (85%) and improved overall health and personal well-being (68%). Other countries such as Australia, Germany and Canada have also shown an increase in interest in gardening.

"Based on our research, which summarises findings from many countries, we recommend that gardening should become part of public health, food security and climate change adaptation policies and strategies, and be more integrated into school education," added Vávra.

Pandemic gardening: A narrative review, vignettes and implications for future research - ScienceDirect