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Safeguarding abundant and healthy food

"Lettuce Grow" school gardening education by the UC Master Gardener Program in San Diego County. Photo/My Than Kim

Food garden sizes where practices learned from events were applied from 2021-22.
Through education and community support, the UC Master Gardener Program has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to begin successfully growing fruit and vegetables in their homes, schools, or community gardens.

Participants in food gardening workshops reported positive behavior change in four areas:

  • growing edible plants
  • expanding varieties grown
  • reducing produce loss
  • food security

The UC Master Gardener Program makes a significant impact on California communities through its efforts to promote food gardening. By providing education and support to individuals and partner organizations interested in growing their own food, the program has helped increase access to fresh, healthy produce and promote sustainable food systems across the state.

Research shows that growing your own food can have numerous benefits, many of which are realized through the UC Master Gardener Program's efforts. Home gardens are associated with higher fruit and vegetable intake, improved overall diet quality, and reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. This is particularly relevant in California in food deserts. Food deserts are areas where access to fresh, healthy food is limited, typically due to a lack of grocery stores and other sources of fresh produce. Residents in these underserved communities are forced to travel for healthy food options or purchase from a closer source, typically a convenience or fast-food option. This can lead to poor diet quality and an increased risk of diet-related chronic diseases.

74 percent of respondents at UC Master Gardener Program hands-on workshops reported starting or improving gardening practices around growing edible plants.

The UC Master Gardener Program works to establish community, school, and demonstration gardens in underserved urban and rural areas that lack access to fresh produce. These gardens provide a source of fresh, healthy food for communities and can help reduce the impact of food deserts.

Additionally, the program has provided education and training to help individuals and partner organizations establish their own food gardens, which can help improve access to healthy foods and increase food security in California communities.

In rural Butte County, where nearly one-fifth (18%) of the population lacks access to enough food, and over one-quarter (28%) lives in areas with limited access to affordable, nutritious food, the UC Master Gardener Program and CalFresh Healthy Living collaborate to provide gardening lessons at low-income school sites. UC Master Gardeners focus on instructing students and staff on how to grow food, while CalFresh Healthy Living emphasizes the importance of plant-based nutrition. After the students have successfully grown produce in the garden, they harvest and eat the fruit and vegetables they have cultivated. The UC Master Gardener Program and CalFresh Healthy Living have a vision for the future in which school gardens are established and supported as "living labs" throughout the state. 

In our state’s most populated county, Los Angeles, UC Master Gardener volunteers offer the Grow LA Vegetable Garden Initiative, a program that helps new gardeners start their own food gardens quickly and easily in containers, community gardens, or areas in the front yard or backyard. UC Master Gardener volunteers lead four-session classes across the county and encourage participants to support gardeners in their local communities after completion of the course. In Northeast Los Angeles County, in Eagle Rock, UC Master Gardeners collaborated with Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church to create a food garden that reflected the diverse cuisines of neighborhood residents.

“Replacing the grass lawns in the front of the church with grow beds has been one of the best decisions we’ve made. UC Master Gardeners have helped us immensely to create an environment of vibrancy, new life, engagement, and community. We deeply appreciate our partnership.” - Pastor Jamie Edwards-Acton

The UC Master Gardener Program's food gardening efforts have had an incredible impact in California, promoting food security and access, expanding the variety of vegetables grown, reducing produce loss, and—most importantly—building community. As the program continues to expand and evolve, we have the potential to achieve an even greater impact and inspire individuals and organizations to take action to support sustainable food systems in the state.