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How Spring Gardening Can Be Physically, Mentally Therapeutic Amid Pandemic

MURRAY, Utah — Utah’s beautiful spring weather has left many people anxious to get outside and soak in some sunshine. One avid Utah gardener said working in the dirt benefits both her mental and physical health.

After a long winter’s nap and a yearlong pandemic, Jana Francis welcomed the spring with open arms.

“It really is such a promise of the future,” she said. “It gives you so much to look forward to into the future, like ‘I can’t wait until I’m finally picking these tomatoes!'”

Francis is an expert gardener and host of the Gardening Utah podcast. She’s has had a love for gardening ever since she was young.

“Our family always had all the excess vegetables from my grandparents’ garden. It was kind of a big deal to go and help grandma and grandpa get their garden put in,” she said. “It really kind of sparked an interest in me.”

She enjoys growing vegetables that can’t be found in the grocery store or farmer’s markets, as well.

“If it can be grown in Utah and it’s a vegetable, I’ve planted it,” she said laughing. “It’s a rare occasion when some meal at my house doesn’t have something that’s from the garden that I preserved over the year.”

Francis found joy in starting her crops from tiny seeds under grow lamps in her garage and watching them slowly grow. This year she already started a lot of cool-season vegetables like onions, peas, radishes, and spinach. Francis is also excited about the garlic she planted last fall that is now sprouting.

She found a way to spend at least a little time every single day in her garden during the spring and summer.

“You’re getting your vitamin D, you’re getting your physical exercise, you’re breathing the fresh air, and that alone is so refreshing just to be outside. It’s peaceful. You’re hearing the birds,” she said.

Jason Conover, a licensed clinical social worker with Intermountain Healthcare, said gardening is good for both the body and the mind.

“I think it’s really important to remember that it is exercise, that it does count, that all of those muscles you’re using are very similar to the machines that was used at the gym,” Conover said.

In addition to breaking a sweat, spending time outside is healing mentally and emotionally. He said it helps people be more present.

“Being able to actually put our hands in the earth seems to be so grounding,” he explained. “It’s calming, it’s soothing, it’s meditative.”

Conover said gardening can help people connect especially after a long year of isolation.

“There’s a lot of other people that also like to garden and it gives us something in common,” he said. “We can also share the abundance, we can share the passion with other people. So it is a really great way in a really positive, safe way, in a pandemic, to be a part of a community and a part of something that’s really life-giving.”

Conover added that simply spending time in the sun can have many benefits. “There’s an opportunity to be in the sunshine, which helps with vitamin D, which helps with thousands and thousands of different hormonal processes.

“It gives us really positive, sustainable dopamine, which is very good for energy and motivation,” Conover said.

Gardeners complete the cycle when they eat their harvested crops and get “a lot of those vitamins, nutrients,” which benefits the brain and gut health, he added.

Conover tells people who are just starting out to find something to plant that excites them. He says it doesn’t have to be a big plot. “But even just small planter beds, window gardens.”

“Now is absolutely the best time to get started. You can start prepping your soil,” Francis said. “Just try, just try! That’s the really the only way to learn to garden is just to get out there and give it a go.”

She will be starting her warm-season vegetables after Mother’s Day.

“I think a lot of people realize how empowering that can feel, to walk out to plant something and then walk out and pick something fresh from your garden and put it on your plate,” she said.

As the host of the Gardening Utah podcast, Francis hosts gardening experts from throughout the state. Listen on either Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Every year, Intermountain’s Orem Community Hospital hosts 46 families in their LiVe Well Garden. Each family is assigned a raised-bed garden with a drip irrigation system and is responsible for tending to it all summer long. People can apply to volunteer in the garden here.

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