i-Three Issue Corps – Garden 2 Go: Using text messages to teach nutrition and gardening

Many people enjoy gardening and eating the fresh produce they receive from the garden. For others that want to experience the benefits of a garden, but don’t have the space or knowledge to care for and harvest from a garden, we have started a pilot project called Garden 2 Go. The Family Nutrition Program (FNP) and other partners in the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger started a program whereby SNAP (formerly food stamps) eligible residents receive nutrition education, a home based garden, and text message education throughout the growing season. FNP, as a part of UF/IFAS Extension, has the goal of helping Florida SNAP-eligible residents learn better eating and physical activity habits to reduce the risk of obesity and chronic disease. Experiential learning through gardening for nutrition shows better efficacy in behavior change than nutrition education alone.

nutrition lesson
FNP educator providing a nutrition lesson. Photo Credit. Malory Foster

 

The Garden 2 Go pilot project started in the Fall of 2015 and was graciously accepted to be part of the i-Three Issue Food Systems Corps. This project was conducted in Pinellas County, Florida, and SNAP-eligible residents were provided nutrition education (from Share our Strength’s Cooking Matters series), garden education, sub-irrigated container gardens with starter plants and soil, and text (SMS) messaging throughout the growing season.

planting seedlings
Garden 2 Go participant planting a seedling in a sub-irrigated container garden. Photo Credit. Malory Foster

 

At the beginning of the project, Extension agents conducted a class for participants about how to care for the sub-irrigated container gardens and their water-saving features. The participants could choose to grow either: peppers and cilantro, kale and lettuce, or basil and tomato. In the weeks following the education session, they were sent text messages like:

“Remember the box needs to be somewhere with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight and make sure to water your plants.” – 1 Day after Training (DAT)

“Hi how’s the garden? The plants are still young so it’s important to keep their roots wet. Give them some water if you haven’t yet today.” – 5 DAT

“Hi how are you? Are you ready to harvest some peppers? To harvest your pepper you snip it off right where it is hanging. You may be able to break it off but you run to risk of snapping the branch it grows from.” – 70 DAT

“Nutrition tip: Did you know that ½ cup of fresh green peppers has daily recommend amount of Vitamin C? “ – 75 DAT

We have two seasons of results and tips, so please continue to visit the eXtension website for future blog posts that will detail the evolution of this pilot project and measured impacts.