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Nutrition Garden Rx

Optimizing urban gardens for climate and health benefits with/for people with low-income.

A nonprofit fiscally sponsored by East Portland Neighbors

Next Step

Facilitate pilot garden designs with people with low income that includes education about the health (physical, mental, nutritive, and climate) benefits of gardens. These pilot projects will help advocate for investments to more broadly implement Nutrition Garden Rxs. 


Challenges Nutrition Garden Rx addresses

  • 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing our climate emergency (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2014). The good news - because it is human-caused, with human behavior change, we can solve it (Roser-Renouf, 2019).

  • In 2018, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change urged to decrease global carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

  • If the US healthcare system were a country, it would be the seventh-largest carbon-dioxide polluter in the world (Blumenthal, 2018).

  • US healthcare is by far the most expensive in the world (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2020) for many reasons. A primary reason is due to costly, preventable, chronic conditions; improving nutrition helps to reduce the risk for chronic conditions (Center for Disease Control, 2019).

  • US healthcare costs are projected to drastically increase due to climate change impacts (World Health Organization, 2018).

  • Populations with low income are projected to experience more harmful climate impacts than groups with middle and high income (Conlon, 2019).



  • Community- and strengths-based design processes with substantial input from interested beneficiaries is critical. Beneficiaries’ needs and interests are at the center of Nutrition Garden Rx designs. Also using community- and strengths-based processes, Nutrition Garden Rx builds on local, nonprofits’ and small businesses’ already-established relationships with people with low income, nutrition and health professionals, and climate professionals. From this context, small space garden structures and plant selections are made to serve beneficiaries’ needs and interests.

  • Extensive research concludes that community gardens improve physical and mental health and allow access to more nutrient-rich food (McCormack, Laska, Larson, & Story, 2010). However, more opportunities exist to diversify designs and implementation. Depending on the needs and interests of people with low income, garden structures/locations could be indoor, outdoor, curbside, on porches, on balconies, in yards, in vacant lots, for multifamily housing communities, for individuals, for families, for neighborhoods, etc.

  • This project creates culturally appropriate solutions for nutrition, equity, and climate by using food, an inclusive, unifying tool and language that cuts across age, income, culture, and discipline (Warhurst, 2012). Exchanging food solutions encourages awareness and connections between cultures, fresh/healthy food, human wellbeing, and climate, and inspires environmentally friendly, human behavior change (Warhurst, 2012).

  • Women are the most critical target group in which to improve nutrition because their health and nutrition status determines many health outcomes for themselves and family and they have proven to have the highest return on investment in international development (VanAmeringen, 2014).

  • If the US healthcare system were a country, it would be the fifth-largest economy (Blumenthal, 2018). Therefore, it is a huge potential driver for climate solutions.

  • Nutrition Garden Rx taps into recent trends/momentum of successful, medical, self-management programs that connect patients to nature and plant-based nutrition. Some of these successes include: 1) Park Rx—doctors give patients park prescriptions for mental/physical health issues (Root, 2017); 2) Food Rx—nutritionists provide resources linking nutritional wellbeing and social determinants of health via community health programs (CareOregon, 2018); and 3) Veggie Rx—healthcare providers prescribe fruit and vegetable vouchers to people experiencing food insecurity (Royal et al., 2016). Nutrition Garden Rx advocates to healthcare prescribers and administrators the health benefits of gardens to secure healthcare funding for Nutrition Garden Rx programming, designs, and implementation to benefit people with low income.

Social Benefits​
  • Improve awareness of health and climate benefits of gardens

  • Increase food access, nutrition, and health prevention

  • Improve access to desirable plants gardens, physical and mental health benefits of gardens

  • Exchange food and garden stories and learning across cultures, levels of income, generations, and disciplines during garden design and implementation

  • Facilitate community collaboration to help maintain gardens

Ecological Benefits
  • ​​Decrease food system carbon footprint by localizing food sources and investing in plant-based foods

  • Lower healthcare system’s carbon footprint by preventing chronic health conditions that require a lot of healthcare resources

  • Increase biodiversity

  • Regenerate soil health

  • Drawdown carbon

Economic Benefits
  • Decrease healthcare and household food cost

  • Generate workforce development opportunities for underemployed people in frontline nonprofits, regenerative agriculture, land restoration, landscape services, gardeners, farmers, nurseries, horticulture, farming supplies, seed production, local food system operations, horticultural therapists, nutrition professionals, climate professionals, designers, etc.

  • Leverage additional resources for Nutrition Garden Rx efforts from medical sources

Long-Term Benefits
  • Create Nutrition Garden Rxs for specific medical conditions and nutrient deficiencies

  • Produce modular Nutrition Garden Rxs for disaster relief and food security

  • Use a similar design process to support locally-based international development organizations’ missions

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