Magnolia Ariza-Nieto and Pat Frazier, two gardeners at the Cayuga Meadows Senior Apartments’ Community garden, are just in their first season of growing food, but they have already found a number of benefits. Pat says that when gardening, “the stress goes away”, and “food tastes better if it comes from the garden”.
Magnolia adds: “[Gardening] keeps you excited about coming outside”.
For beginners, gardening can often involve a large initial investment of time and money, but Pat and Magnolia’s start was aided by the management at the Cayuga meadows senior apartments, and Seed to Supper, a program for new gardeners coordinated by Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. The housing management provided many essential garden components, such as a deer fence, posts and twine for outlining plots, water and hoses. Seed-to-supper volunteers provided the plants and gardening know-how.
According to Magnolia, Seed to Supper helped newbie gardeners “learn about everything. Recipes, plant footprint, soil, everything”. The volunteer educators at Seed to Supper held gardening classes for the Senior Apartments’ residents, and at the end of the training, provided a garden plan, seeds and plant starts for the residents who participated.
But that’s not all Seed to Supper provided. Magnolia says that if they are experiencing any garden problems, they can “call [Seed to Supper] up, and they give us an idea of the problem”. The Master Gardeners at CCE Tompkins also provide this service.
Resources such as these are quite helpful when planting and maintaining a garden, but another essential component is commitment. It can sometimes be difficult to keep up with all the watering and weeding, but for Pat and Magnolia, this only takes about 3-5 hours a week.
Gardening can also have its additional challenges. For Pat, the insects and drought periods can be frustrating, while Magnolia was initially inhibited by the chance of encountering certain animals in the garden: “I thought: frogs and snakes and slugs? No.” She has since gotten over her fear, with the help of tall rain boots.
These frustrations do not keep Magnolia, Pat, and the other gardeners away from their gardens, however. In fact, Pat and Magnolia have abundant enthusiasm for gardening, and tout its many benefits. For Magnolia, the health benefits of tending to a garden are clear: being around the soil can boost the immune system, going outside “into nature” can reduce stress, gardening keeps people physically active, and, of course, having lots of fresh, organic produce never hurts. For Pat, the social benefits are just as important as the health ones: a community garden brings people together—it is a place where friends can be made.
There is a large body of research that suggests that Magnolia and Pat are indeed correct. This article by National Geographic magazine shows how relaxing and healthy a trip outdoors can be, and this article from NBC news suggests that soil microbes might boost not only your immune system, but your mood.
Overall, the Cayuga Meadows Senior Apartments’ community garden has come a long way, and residents hope that it will continue to grow. Next year, they plan to create a Garden Committee, made up of gardeners living at the apartments, as well as more experienced gardeners that do not live there. Magnolia is very enthusiastic about the benefits of gardening, and brings more residents into the garden whenever she can.
Pat and Magnolia’s advice to beginners? Start small. When you are just learning about gardening, it is best to make mistakes when your garden is small rather than when it is large. After gaining experience, you can grow more produce. “That’s why Seed to Supper is so great”, says Magnolia. “They give knowledge and experience to people.” And—it is free.