Implementation and Evaluation of a Community Gardening and Nutrition Program among at-risk Youth

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Virginia Tech


Background: Community-based participatory research (CBPR) has been recommended as an effective approach to engage communities in implementing research projects relevant to their needs and interests.  Following this approach, the Dan River Partnership for a Healthy Community was formed to address regional obesity concerns in the Dan River Region, a health disparate area located in south central Virginia and north central North Carolina.  Community gardens were identified as a priority, and the development and implementation of this study continues previous collaborative efforts in evaluating the effectiveness of community gardens within this region.

Objectives: The primary aim of this study was to determine if applying the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) to an adapted curriculum throughout a 10-week gardening and nutrition education intervention would increase youths' willingness to try fruits and vegetables (FV), self-efficacy for eating and asking for FV and gardening, knowledge of nutrition and gardening, and outcome expectations for FV.  Secondary aims were to determine if age groups or attendance rates would positively influence outcome measures and to qualitatively evaluate youths' perceptions about their experiences and opinions about the program.

Methods: Utilizing a pre-post design, researchers delivered this program once weekly with 60 minutes of interactive nutrition or gardening education and 30 minutes of experiential gardening.  Questionnaires included validated and novel measures.  Repeated measure ANOVA analyses were used to determine changes in outcome measures.  Post-program interviews were conducted with youth and qualitative data was coded and analyzed.

Results: Of the 43 enrolled youth, 42 were African American.  Although willing to try FV did not change significantly, there were significant improvements in self-efficacy for asking for FV from 1.70 (0.34) to 1.83 (0.29) (F=7.07; p=.013) and overall gardening knowledge from 14.53 (3.45) to 15.74 (3.90) (F=7.67; p=.01).  There were also significant improvements in some of the knowledge subcategories for gardening and nutrition, including plant parts and my plate (p<0.05).  Qualitative findings indicated the majority of the participants expressed positive perceptions of the program with the most liked components including food sampling, games and gardening experiences.

Discussion and Implications: Our findings demonstrate the feasibility of developing and implementing an adapted theory-driven community gardening and nutrition education program for low socioeconomic youth in public housing.  It implicates the need for future research on youth community gardens using the CBPR approach.  Findings were shared with community partners and future efforts will expand this program.



childhood obesity, community garden, nutrition education, fruit and vegetables