At the onset of World War II, the United States government rationed materials in order to ensure its armed forces were properly supplied and encouraged Americans to plant “victory” gardens. Nearly 20 million Americans supported the war effort by planting gardens in their backyards, empty lots and even city rooftops to provide themselves with homegrown fruits, vegetables and herbs. This was truly a united effort towards a common cause – winning the war.
Once again we have to plant victory gardens – not to support the war effort, but to present a united front against obesity. Although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced one year ago that obesity rates had started to level off, 34 percent of American adults are categorized as obese. This means that one in three Americans have increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even certain types of cancer. Unless we address this issue head on, we are going to continue spending astronomical amounts of money on health care.
As I said before, we have to take a stand against obesity. One of the many ways we could do so is by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by using available space to plant gardens. There is certainly no lack of space, as American cities have thousands of properties that currently sit empty. According to a study conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in 2005, Philadelphia, Pa., has over 60,000 vacant properties. Cleveland, Ohio has 32,000 vacant lots and Baltimore, Md., has 42,000 vacant housing units. Those numbers have only risen throughout the country in recent years after the financial crisis of 2008 and the collapse of the housing bubble that followed. That’s quite a bit of unused space that could be more efficiently used to provide homegrown produce.
Planting gardens in vacant city lots could have multiple benefits outside of improving the nutritional health of inner-city citizens that don’t have the same access to organic produce. This program would only be successful if communities pooled their money and their time, so a successful garden would promote a sense of community. Furthermore, if this program were implemented at a national level, the increase in biomass per square foot would also promote cleaner air in our smog-choked cities.
This is not to say that planting gardens is the end-all solution to a disease that the CDC has labeled as an epidemic. We also have to promote a more active society and address the other more complicated issues associated with overeating. But at the end of the day, it’s not just how much, but also the quality of what you eat that really makes a difference.
Maxwell Balbin is a freshman majoring in chemistry. He can be reached at [email protected].