By Tina Gustafson
Environmental Health Specialist
How far do you think a tomato travels to reach your plate?
Well, on average it’s about 1,500 miles — or halfway across the country. Think about what goes into that long-distance transport — large amounts of fossil fuels that create vast quantities of carbon dioxide emissions.
Because the food must travel so far, it is picked when unripe, and preservatives and gases are used to ripen or preserve food.
Since early this year, members of the Health Department’s Garden Committee have worked hard to establish a community garden and collaborated with Community Health Facility partner organizations. You can find the garden on the southeast end of campus, nestled between a triangular concrete border.
By growing more food locally in our Health Department garden, not only are we reducing how far some of our food travels from 1,500 miles to roughly 0.1 miles, but we also can offer fresher and better-tasting produce to staff and other folks visiting the Health Department.
In another environmental impact, we are reducing our greenhouse gas emissions because there is no packaging created for these veggies and fruit.
You might have seen our shredded office paper around the base of our plants too — this helps maintain moisture, so we use less water. It is also keeping weeds down and recycling our paper waste.
Our goal with planting various vegetables and flowers in the garden is to provide a more welcoming environment for pollinators. We planted flowers like butterfly milkweed, echinacea and other Douglas County native plants to encourage them to visit our garden.
We have tons of bees visiting our pumpkin and squash flowers. There is a toad friend who likes to hang out in the garden, and so far we have spotted three monarch babies on the butterfly milkweed!
We have also discussed starting our own compost, which will help divert organic waste from landfills and provide us compost to grow healthy, vibrant plants.
Much of the organic waste that ends up in landfills does not break down easily and ends up contributing more to greenhouse-gas emissions.
It’s important to reflect on the benefits of our very own Health Department garden — and they really can be vast. There are more obvious health benefits from exercise in the garden like lower blood pressure, increased physical activity and some extra Vitamin D from those rays you’re catching. Some other benefits include greater access to healthy foods, teamwork and collaboration, cross-departmental community building and increasing employee engagement.
If you haven’t checked out the Health Department garden recently, you can take a look at our progress! We have worked hard to grow a variety of veggies, flowers, and even watermelon.
- Tina Gustafson is an Environmental Health Specialist with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department and member of the Garden Committee.