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Garden-in-a-box breeds growers

Posted: Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

ACG coordinator Victoria Brunner, left, and Alamosa Mayor Kathy Rogers, right, start making plans for the mayor's Garden-in-a-box Tuesday afternoon. This is the first year Rogers has had her own garden plot. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — Gardening season has finally arrived in the Valley, and the Alamosa Community Gardens group is helping everyone get involved, even the mayor.

In its fourth season, the Garden-in-a-box program is teaching people how to grow food using a raised bed and simple collection of seeds. The program’s goal is to motivate people who might otherwise not give gardening a try and to help low-income families and community groups produce food. This year, a Colorado Garden Show grant sponsored the 16 4x8 boxes that were distributed throughout the area to homes and other community groups last weekend.

“We want people to learn how to garden or get back into it,” said ACG coordinator Victoria Brunner. “This is a great and rewarding thing and the boxes are a great way for anyone to start.”

This season, anyone includes Alamosa Mayor Kathy Rogers, who up until this week had been plain afraid to plant seeds in the ground. Now, equipped with Valley climate friendly radish, carrot, spinach and lettuce seeds, baby tomato plants, a watering can and all the compost a gardener needs, she is ready to get her hands dirty.

“It is going to be great to do this,” said Rogers, who is looking forward to using her homegrown veggies for her home cooked Sunday meals. “What is even better is that I get a mentor.”

The program includes weekly contact and regular visits with a volunteer garden mentor, which complements the Garden-in-a-box course the ACG offered with last weekend’s distribution.

Besides having access to delicious foods, a garden provides a number of additional benefits including improved physical and mental health. According to the Farmers’ Almanac, planting, digging, watering, weeding, mulching and harvesting are all forms of exercise. The lifting, crouching and pushing gardening requires can build strength, improve muscle tone, increase flexibility, burn calories and raise metabolism heart rate.

Various studies have linked improved mental health to spending time playing in the dirt. One Norwegian study found that people diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or “bipolar II disorder” that spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables saw their symptoms begin to disappear. A Colorado State University (CSU) study connected soil bacteria to the mental health improvements, finding the commonly found microorganisms increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood, similar to the effects of antidepressant drugs.

Research has also found gardening to reduce the risk of dementia. According to a CNN report, two separate studies that followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found, respectively, that those who gardened regularly had a 36 percent and 47 percent lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account.

Gardening is also known to reduce stress levels, according to the Farmers’ Almanac. It can help to lower blood pressure, decrease triglycerides and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and improve chronic health conditions.

The Valley Courier will follow Mayor Rogers and her Garden-in-a-box throughout the summer.

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