When is a vegetable more than just a vegetable? When the act of growing one helps combat stress and is a commitment to environmental health and justice. On this episode of the NNLM Discovery podcast, Region One outreach librarian April Wright shares her story with host Yamila El-Khayat about how she helped Dr. Rachel Goldstein at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health use an NNLM Health Information Outreach Award to expand the reach of her Healthy Garden, Healthy Youth project. This project helps address two of the most significant public health challenges facing our nation: mental health challenges and food insecurity. Dr. Goldstein’s team worked with underserved communities in Maryland with limited access to fresh food to understand the mental health, physical health, and cost benefits of growing their own food.
To view the Healthy Garden, Healthy You toolkit visit: https://extension.umd.edu/resource/healthy-garden-healthy-you-toolkit
The NNLM is the outreach arm of the National Library of Medicine with the mission to advance the progress of medicine and improve the public health by providing all U.S. health professionals with equal access to biomedical information and improving the public's access to information to enable them to make informed decisions about their health. The seven Health Sciences Libraries function as the Regional Medical Library (RML) for their respective region, with Region One consisting of: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
To learn more about Region 1 visit: https://www.nnlm.gov/about/regions/region1
Join Outreach Services Librarian Yamila El-Khayat every week through March 17 for a new episode of the NNLM Discovery podcast. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, or on our website www.nnlm.gov/podcast. Please be sure to like, rate, and review the show!
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I’m librarian Yamila El-Khayat and this is NNLM Discovery a podcast from the Network of the National Library of Medicine. This podcast series explores how the NNLM is engaging with communities to provide access to trusted information for the purpose of improving the public’s health. Today's episode is Healthy Garden, Healthy Youth, a story from Region one outreach librarian April Wright from the University of Maryland, Baltimore Health Sciences and Human Services Library will be joining us today to tell our story.
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Hi, Yamila. Mila
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So you're an outreach librarian in Region one. For those that don't know, librarians do a lot more than just checking out books. Tell us what you do.
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Absolutely, Yamila. As an outreach librarian, I specialize in environmental health and justice. The NNLM is the outreach arm of the National Library of Medicine. With our funded projects, we are reaching further into communities to provide that access to trustable health information so that people can make more informed decisions about their health.
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Can you explain to us what makes Region one unique?
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Yes. Yes. Region one is comprised of several states Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Washington, D.C. So we have a lot of urban areas and rural areas as well. And with our proximity to Washington, D.C., we have a high concentration of universities and libraries, and we have the National Library of Medicine right in our backyard, as well as being right here with the nation's capital.
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Wow. That's quite a bit of land you got to cover there. So set up our story for today. What does gardening have to do with the network of the National Library of Medicine?
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Well, Region One offers a health information outreach award, which supports projects that improve health information literacy and increase the public's ability to access health information. I was able to find Dr. Rachel Goldstein's lab Water Quality Outreach and Wellness, the WOW Laboratory at the University of Maryland College Park. I contacted her and asked her to apply for this funding, and she did.
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So let's have her tell us about her project. Healthy garden, healthy you.
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My name's Rachel Goldstein. I'm an assistant professor at the University of Maryland in the School of Public Health in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. And I'm a trained environmental microbiologist, and I direct the WOW lab, which stands for Water Quality Outreach and Wellness. And during the COVID pandemic, I, like many people, was not able to go into the office or my lab as usual.
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So I was really just looking for ways that I could help people during that really stressful time. And I started reading a lot about the mental health benefits of nature and gardening, and for me and my family in particular, gardening was really helpful, especially during that beginning time where there was a lot of uncertainty. And so I really just wanted to provide some of these resources to other people and to people in underserved communities who might not have access to both health information and gardening information.
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And that that's kind of the the birth of Healthy Garden, Healthy You. To win this award was really validating for the work that I started during COVID. So it was an opportunity, both professionally and personally, to really expand on what I felt was important, what I'd found through a more formal, traditional research project, you know, collecting information through surveys.
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But here with the Healthy Garden, Healthy You Project, we could really give back that information, which is something that I feel really passionate about. And I think, you know, we were really successful at reaching a lot of people with a fairly small amount of money. So I'm really proud of of our impact.
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I'm the P.I. of the project. And then Jon Traunfeld, who is the director of the Home Garden and Information Center, is my co-investigator.
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Got a call from Rachel. She had this idea based on both her previous research and her knowledge of the kinds of programs that we're involved with. There's been a growing interest in the US and for a lot of people, I think in connecting back to the land, to start growing some of their own food for self-sufficiency, to reduce costs.
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So those things can kind of come together in this project. A huge number of people in the U.S. don't have access to healthy food or enough food. You know, some people talk about food deserts, but really food deserts equates to food access. And that's all part of a bigger problem, which is food apartheid, you know, through racial discriminatory practices and policies, you know, large numbers of people, nonwhite populations in the U.S. are prevented from having the same things that white populations have enjoyed, whether it's access to capital, ability to own businesses, own homes, educational opportunities and so forth.
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So that all then translates down the line through health care, you know, food access, control over your own food system. So, you know, that's part of our job is to break down the barriers and make sure people have what they need.
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We had four different objectives and related outputs in the project, so we wanted to create fact sheets, kind of gathering all the information that was out there about the benefits of gardening and connecting it to both mental and physical health. And we also created online toolkits so that for our target communities, which for this project were Baltimore City and Prince George's County, Maryland, so that those community members could have resources that were really targeted to them.
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And then the last piece of the project was to really have this active component where we created gardening starter kits and provided them to members of these two communities. Because one thing we heard from people is that they just weren't sure where to start. So the idea with the gardening starter kits was that we would provide the materials and kind of push them on their way.
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And then John and I really felt that the best people to give these starter kits to the communities would be people who are who are already known and trusted resources in their communities. So that's Esther Mitchell in Prince George's County and Marcus Williams in Baltimore City. And they're both master gardener coordinators.
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The stuff the tomatoes in the stores are usually taste like cardboard. My name is Esther Mitchell. I am the master gardener coordinator for the University of Maryland Extension Prince George's County. And I'm also the community developer for the Department of the Environment for Prince George's County Government.
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And my name is Marcus Williams. I am an extension agent. I work for the University of Maryland.
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Prince George's was really a rural area that became a suburban area, and a lot of areas didn't have a lot of grocery stores that were close to them.
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Food insecurity is when you're a mile to a mile and a half away from fresh fruits and vegetables. There's different types of food insecurities. There is urban food insecurity, and there is rural insecurity, food insecurity. The difference is how many miles away from your nearest grocery store or fresh fruits and vegetables. So if you are in an urban area, it’s a mile to a mile and a half, if you're in a rural area, it's five miles.
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So I'm in Baltimore City. It is a hodgepodge. When you're living in a food insecure area, you're not really able to identify certain vegetables. You're not as likely to eat certain vegetables because you're not used to seeing them. So with the boxes that we're passing out, we're hoping to inspire people to not only grow their own food, but also to inspire their neighbors.
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There's nothing as fresh as something coming out of your garden and you eating it. The stores fresh food, it's not as fresh as you think because it took a couple days to get here. And I think people need to taste what fresh really tastes like. I got involved with Healthy Garden, Healthy You through Jon Traunfeld who was looking for two counties that had low income people who could also they could provide these boxes to to help with the project.
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I along with Marcus and Esther looked at what would be the most useful kind of approach to take. And so we settled on the Earth Box Junior. This is a commercial container garden. It's very durable and it's portable. So it enables somebody to grow a little bit of their own food, whether it's in a backyard or on a balcony or, you know, a back step or a parking pad in Baltimore City.
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So what was handed out was a variety of seeds, some other type of easy to grow vegetable. You got soil, you had a box to grow it in, and you also get an instruction on how to grow. I brought the boxes to pastor Herbert Brown with the Black Church Security Food Network, and he helped us facilitate finding people who would be interested and growing in the boxes.
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In Prince George's, we passed out 20 earth boxes to elementary school. We provided one tomato plant, one pepper plant, and beans seeds, and lettuce seeds. My role was to provide the instructions on how to set up the box, how to plant the plants, and to distribute the boxes to the residents.
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I've known Esther for probably 25 years and Marcus is newer to the organization, but we have a working relationship and so they're natural leaders and educators, you know, in their community. So they were the folks that, you know, were best able to identify the communities and the individuals who could really benefit from these garden kits.
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I hope the results are prosperous. I hope they get a chance to learn how to grow. What we with the term I like the coin is agri-literacy, being able to expand your knowledge of agricultural practices and also to get connected with nature.
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I gotta get that weed. It's nice to know that you can see the fruits of your labor and what you are doing that makes a difference. Plus, it's beautiful. It's beautiful out here. Notice in the vegetable garden and the herb garden, you don't have fat, you don't have fried foods. If you have a healthy garden, then you are going to be healthy yourself.
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This is all healthy food that you can grow, which creates a healthy you.
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I hope that people enjoy seeing little baby plants grow from seeds, and I hope it'll inspire people to then grow something in the fall and then next year to get that box out and replanted. The tool kit that's online that the graduate students Cameron and Emily put together is going to be long lasting. I mean, it's part of our overall food gardening section for the University of Maryland extension website.
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We're tracking the analytics. We know a lot of people are going to the to those pages and learning about food gardening resources in Baltimore City and Prince George's County that can help them out. So it's going to have some long standing effects, I think.
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There's a lot of research out there and it's really growing about the positive impact of nature, contact on mental and physical health. So just being in nature, being around nature and then gardening specifically provides an opportunity for people to be physically active, to interact with nature. And it also provides this opportunity to have access to your own food and be more resilient.
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That was a fascinating story, April. Where do we stand today with this project, Healthy Garden? Healthy you?
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Well Yamila, as of today, those gardens are still growing.
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I'm happy to hear you're keeping those gardens healthy. We'll have to do a follow up episode to find out the results from this award. What did it mean to you personally to be involved in this project?
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Well Yamila, I love gardening and I love supporting projects that give back to the community. And it's so important to address food insecurity and mental health issues in this during this time.
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Thank you, April.
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Thank you, Yamila.
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