Imagine walking out of your next doctor’s visit carrying a prescription to grow more produce. While this might seem unusual, it cannot be argued that gardens yield baskets full of nutritional food, fit for diets of any age. Local gardening, and the resulting local food communities, may hold even more answers to the economic and health care disasters we currently face.

With obesity now seen as an epidemic in developed nations, gardening represents a good source of physical activity [Source: Gostic]. This means added activity for young children who often lack physical exertion, adults who need more of it and seniors who are looking for ways to increase daily movement. More than half of the population 18 and younger consume less than five fruits and vegetables per day [Source: Guenther]. As adults, those numbers don't improve. Gardening can help encourage youth to try a greater range of fruits and vegetables [Source: Robinson-O'brien]. Studies show that gardening promotes physical health, mental health through relaxation and satisfaction, and better nutrition [Source: Wakefield]. This backyard pastime has been shown to help prevent dementia in seniors [Source: Fabrigoule]. It allows for more whole foods as well, in place of processed options.

Research has shown that gardening can provide extra food for the family, savings on food purchases and another means of income if sold at local farmers markets [Source: Lombard]. This becomes particularly important in indigent areas around the world. Economic instability has threatened a major market that is often taken for granted, the global food market. This has left many countries without food and caused even greater political instability. Gardening is a simple practice that could be taught and promoted worldwide. It's commonly noted that local gardening brings about a better sense of community [Source: Wakefield, Lombard, Armstrong]. All of us could benefit from making it a social priority.

Local gardens will help support the purchase of local foods. This is actually a tremendous issue on many levels. Purchasing food locally helps support local farmers, especially with fruits and vegetables that may not get any other type of subsidy. One of our greatest areas of fossil fuel consumption is the transportation of food. Buying food locally through community markets helps to slash our consumption and greatly lessen our dependence on foreign fuel sources. The consumer reaps better nutrition by exploring various whole foods, savings on transportation costs of the food and enjoying the growth of the local community food markets.

Relaxation and stress reduction could be one of the best benefits. Given that antidepressants are some of the most commonly prescribed medications, a prescription for some flowers, plants or tomatoes might be a refreshing change. Researchers commonly note the positive mental outlook obtained by those participating in gardening [Source: Wakefield, Lombard, Armstrong]. A stronger connection to the earth is also noted. Gardens may even help with healing. Hospitals and treatment centers are encouraged to “go green” to help lower stress and improve social interaction in their facilities [Source: Irvine]. You could start a garden with a group of friends or do something as simple as planting a few plants or herbs in your home or office. Another great benefit of gardening is that is gives the body a chance to focus on just the garden and drop away from the stressors of yesterday or tomorrow.

Gardens represent yet another surprising answer to help our declining health care system. Benefits in nutrition, activity level and reduction in anxiety are just a few of the positive outcomes. Positive mental health and better community cohesiveness are other pros desperately needed in tough economic times. Gardening can help the local food markets, which may become a necessity due to the escalating fuel costs and the need for greater nutrition. Get into your backyard and develop a greater consciousness of the world in which we live.