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

Welcome back to the second posting for the Garden 2 Go i-Three Corps project. In the last posting we gave an overview of the project and this posting will provide a results, considerations, barriers, changes, and inspirational quotes from our first two seasons. This pilot project was small (52 total participants), but the potential for expansion with proper technology is impressive. Let’s start off with my favorite direct quote that we received at the end of a growing season via text:

“I can hardly believe that we have arrived to this stage. I am in tears right now, I have never really ever grown anything that has been successful to feed my family. This is a truly wonderful method of teaching. Thank you so much. God bless you all :)”

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Garden 2 Go participant receiving a transplant. Photo Credit. Benjamin Wrobel.

After the first season the only result, beyond pictures of happy and sad plants, was that participants reported an increase in knowledge gain of 10% and 6% for gardening and nutrition knowledge, respectively. After the i-Three meeting in San Antonio, we included other questions that assessed behavior change and impact. The questions asked and percentage of ‘yes’ responses are below.

Question Percent response ‘yes’
Are you purchasing more fresh fruits or vegetables from the store?  (80%)
Are you showing or talking about the plants with family or friends?  (67%)
Are you being more physically active?  (67%)
Are you cooking more at home?  (33%)
Are you eating more fresh vegetables?  (67%)
Have you learned anything new as result of having the garden?  (100%)

The constant communication with the participants was mutually beneficial, see below for another direct quote from a participant.

“Hello! Yes I do notice my plants are growing nicely. . . I am so busy . . . I so appreciate the text which prompted me to go out and water. Yay this is awesome! I actually have something of my own growing and will be able at some point eat of it. Can I send you pictures? Thank you again :)”

The participants enjoyed growing and eating the produce, see below for more direct quotes from a participant.

“We had grilled chicken Caesar salad for dinner one night and it made an awesome lunch too!!”

“We ate lettuce on sandwiches…it was at morning I am sorry I did not take pictures BUT the face of my husband was happy”

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Garden 2 Go participant photo of Kale salad made from kale grown by the participant. Photo Credit. Text message from a Garden 2 Go participant.

The text communication was also an excellent vehicle to provide on-demand education no matter what the concern or issue. See below for more direct quotes from a participants.

“All my lettuces is dead. I do not know what is wrong.”

“Ummm which one is the lettuce lolol!!“

We had a lot of fun providing gardening and nutrition education to the SNAP-Ed residents of Florida. Please read below to learn about our progression and thoughts for the future. Thank you for reading this blog post and we look forward to hearing about your success increasing the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as increasing physical activity for SNAP-Ed eligible residents in your area.

– UF/IFAS Extension, Family Nutrition Program

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FNP educator providing a gardening lesson. Photo Credit. Benjamin Wrobel.

Considerations after Fall 2015
1. Number of growing seasons (Florida could have up to 5, but the number needs to be reasonable given other staff duties and desires for high-heat summer vegetables, peppers, sorrel, etc.)
2. Increase number of sites in later growing seasons
3. How can we better use the pictures/request pictures that we can use (maybe more of consumption/preparation)
4. Include questions to assess behavior change and impact
5. Are initial and follow up text messages being sent at the best time/tone to encourage read/response
6. Are behavior change questions appropriate?

Considerations after Spring 2016
1. Continue program with sites purchasing grow boxes, future seasons will require an external funding source for grow boxes
2. Reduce number of text questions
3. Create procedure to encourage more responses
4. Create procedure to ask questions again without being annoying and potentially skipping to next question in survey.

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Garden 2 Go participant filling in a water-wicking box with soil. Photo Credit. Benjamin Wrobel.

1. Participants not electing to send/receive SMS
2. Response rate
3. Language barrier
4. Community member meeting/box distribution occurred more than 2 weeks apart (3 different growing dates necessitates three 3 scripts to be administered starting at 3 different times)
5. Community members were allowed to choose from a selection of different produce items
6. Lack of ability to scale up based on cumbersome SMS platform (Google Voice)
7. Number of hours/week required to administer SMS. Avg=5hr, min=2hr, max=8hr.
8. Refreshing boxes is labor intensive
9. Retrieving boxes is logistically difficult

Changes from first season to second
1. Reduced number of hosted days
2. Reduced the variety of produce offered
3. Included questions to measure behavior change in addition to knowledge change
4. Reduced the number of times respondents could opt out of SMS messaging while still allowing them to opt out at any time
5. Internal processes:
a. Changed FNP manager to ensure reduction in hosted days and variety of produce offered
b. Put dates to send SMS messages on shared calendar
6. Volunteers from community site are being recruited for last two sessions in S12016

Future considerations
1. Purchase a better platform to allow for more automation while maintaining the personalized communication stream
2. Implement G2G project in multiple locations
3. Provide a statewide G2G project in Florida
4. Provide scripts and lessons learned to other states that want to replicate the G2G project
5. Investigate the option to expand on SMS messaging to include messages relevant to community members specific geographic location including food sales at local stores and events that will promote healthy living and eating habits