boy  gardening with grandpa

As people write out — and subsequently struggle to keep — their New Year’s resolutions, the most common list-toppers revolve around eating better, getting exercise, losing weight and generally living a healthier lifestyle. As rates of diet- and lifestyle-induced diseases, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, continue to increase and spread to younger age groups, these goals certainly deserve their top-ranked list positions. George Ball, chairman of the W. Atlee Burpee Co. and past president of the American Horticultural Society, has a simple idea for all of us to meet our health-related resolutions: Make 2011 The Year of the Vegetable.

Focused around improving the health of children, Ball’s company has conducted research showing that kids who grow vegetables — with their parents, at school, with friends — will eat these same vegetables regularly and with gusto. The once-icky peas and green beans increase their cool factor by roughly ten-fold when kids are able to see the whole growing process, which means kids actually like to eat them. (Perhaps we adults can learn a valuable lesson from the general distaste children have for veggies when they have no idea where they came from or how they were produced.) The kids take ownership and pride in being part of the production of their food,and look forward to seeing the (literal) fruits of their labors become a part of their meals.

Adults also need to give more attention to the importance vegetables play in a healthy, well-balanced diet. Currently, the Center for Disease Control estimates only a quarter of adults in the U.S. eat at least three servings of vegetables a day (the minimum recommended number). This number, scarily enough, includes those who count eating a half-pound burger with a slice of tomato and lettuce as a meal with two vegetable servings. Add a side of french-fried potatoes and you can call it good, right? By working on our own eating habits, children are more likely to follow our good example.

Even better, gardening as part of an active lifestyle can help boost your exercise level — another one of those common resolution list-toppers. When you get your daily exercise in the vegetable patch, you burn calories while you create nutritious foods for your table. For example, just by spending half an hour digging and shoveling, you burn nearly 200 calories — the same as if you spent that much time pedaling a stationary bicycle.

While we all make New Year’s resolutions, we also almost all fail to meet the standards we optimistically set for ourselves on January 1. This year, failing to meet our health resolutions will only continue the downward spiral of the childhood obesity epidemic that has sprouted around the waistlines of our youth. With the government keenly focused on the problems of childhood obesity, there’s no better time to imitate First Lady Michelle Obama and start our own food gardens in our yards, community gardens, office places, schools or even in just a few containers on the porch.

As Mr. Ball so succinctly stated, “Let’s make 2011 the Year of the Vegetable. We have nothing to lose but our waistlines.”

Do you have a resolution to put in a garden this year?

Check out some of these resources to help make your 2011 a year of (homegrown) vegetables.  
Grow It!: Our blog dedicated to all-things-gardening.
Vegetable Garden Planner: Use this planner to design your best garden ever.
Seed and Plant Finder: This finder lets you quickly search the online catalogs of more than 500 mail order seed companies.

A GREAT book for very small scale farming!