By Melody Muhammad

This year peoples’ lives changed all over the world. Many of us were affected directly or indirectly by the coronavirus that, unfortunately, has taken many lives.  Growing up in the Harlem section of New York City in what some people call the “concrete jungle,” it was not until I started working volunteering with groups such as Growing Power, Penn State Extension Master Gardeners, and the City of Chester Shade Tree Commission, and taking online courses that my life and health changed for the better.  These experiences allowed me to see the value and importance of vegetable gardening even more.

During this pandemic, the Penn State Master Gardeners of Delaware County have been doing a great job encouraging residents to start vegetable gardens to promote wellness and good health.   Vegetables are important sources of nutrients that help boost our immune systems.   However, according to recent statistics nearly 1,000 people in the Delaware Valley have died from the coronavirus.  Many of these individuals were African Americans, whose abilities to recover from this illness were compromised by pre-existing health issues and lifestyles.  

This season the Penn State Master Garden program used its forum to provide free online classes to educate, encourage, and inspire people to start vegetable gardens.  We learned about victory gardens, good and bad insects, recipes using the vegetables we grew, and other ways to benefit from gardening.


These benefits can improve your overall health:

  • Gardening builds self-esteem and helps you get more in tune with the Earth.
  • Gardening involves digging, planting and weeding, all of which burns calories and strengthens your heart (UNC Health internal medicine).
  • Gardening reduces stress by giving you time to focus on the goal at hand.
  • Gardening can make you happy!  Getting soil under your nails causes healthy bacteria that live in the soil to release serotonin, reducing anxiety.
  • Gardening can improve your hand strength keeping your fingers strong.
  • Gardening is good for the entire family.  Farm visits are great places for parents and children to learn together.
  • Gardening allows us to receive our daily boost of Vitamin D through interaction of our skin and the sun.
  • Gardening and growing your own food allows you to control the chemicals used in its production and provide an understanding of what “farm to table” really means.

This season many of us have had more time to reflect on the value of our Earth that provides food, clothing, and shelter.   Food is necessary to live.  The question is “Do we eat to live?”  Many times, when we pick up something at the grocery store and read the ingredients, we know that it’s not real food.  Real foods includes eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, blueberries, apples, and the like, as well as milk and eggs, that are eaten without additives and preservatives.  These are vegetables and fruits that we can grow or obtain from animals we raise that provide these products.  Relying upon too many processed foods, like potato chips, can result in excessive weight gain that often leads to diabetes, heart failure, and other illnesses.   Our immune systems may be weakened, and if there is a second wave of this coronavirus, many more people may get sick and die.

Food is being grown all year round here in the Delaware Valley in greenhouses and hoop houses.  This locally grown food, as well as that in your own home gardens, can be preserved by canning, freezing and dehydrating.  I encourage you to contact Penn State Extension; it has information to get you started.  

I am grateful and thankful to be part of the Penn State Extension Delaware County Master Garden program.  As part of this volunteer organization I have learned lots of useful information, met many generous people willing to share their knowledge and expertise, and had many opportunities to share knowledge of plants and the benefits of vegetable gardening with family, friends and community residents, with the goal of improving our overall physical and mental health.  Good eating and happy gardening!

Melody Muhammad is an urban agriculture consultant and attained a Certification in Urban Agriculture from Will Allen of Growing Power, master gardener certification from Penn State University, is a Princeton Fellow at its Farminary Theology Program and is a member of the Shade Tree Commission in the Delaware Valley. Follow her on Twitter @melodymuhammad and on Instagram @fancyfarmermel.