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Prairie Fare: Gardening Promotes Health and Binds Generations to Each Other

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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All that digging, lifting and bending is good for your health and it’s relaxing at the same time. Also, children who help grow fruits and vegetables are more apt to eat them, too.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

The other day, my 15-year-old daughter and I were pruning some decades-old geranium plants. The ancestors of these plants belonged to her great-grandmother, who died before World War II. Although I never knew my grandmother, I feel I have a connection to her through these plants.

As we trimmed the plants and repotted them outside, I thought of a conversation that my daughter and I had several years ago. She was about a second-grader at the time.

“Are you teaching me how to plant things so someday I can teach my little girl?” my daughter asked. We were planting flowers and tomato and pepper plants.

“That’s the idea,” I remarked. Being a grandmother was an interesting future concept, too.

“Then she can teach her little kids and they can teach their little kids and on and on,” my daughter continued.

I was growing older by the minute.

“Yes, that’s true. Gardening is pretty fun, isn’t it? I hope we’ll get lots of tomatoes and peppers,” I remarked, changing the subject before we hit the 22nd century.

“It’s kind of a lot of work,” she noted with a dramatic sigh as she lugged a bucket of compost to the garden plot. “Can we take a break?”

Gardening is beneficial on many levels. All that digging, lifting and bending is good for your health and it’s relaxing at the same time. Depending on what you choose to plant, flowers and plants can beautify your landscape. Herbs can flavor your recipes, and fruits and vegetables can color your recipes. Children who help grow fruits and vegetables are more apt to eat them, too.

If gardening is your preferred form of exercise, consider the research of Barbara Ainsworth and colleagues published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. She examined the effort expended in a variety of activities and assigned “exertion value” numbers.

Lower numbers correspond to less exertion and fewer calories burned. Here are some relative exertion values (not in calories burned) for typical activities:

  • 0.9 - Lying quietly or sleeping
  • 1.5 - Sitting on the deck
  • 2.3 - Walking while shopping
  • 3 - Carpentry
  • 4 - Bicycling at 10 mph, fishing, water aerobics
  • 4.5 - Golfing
  • 5 - Softball or baseball
  • 6 - Swimming

Here’s how gardening activities fit in this system:

  • 1.5 - Standing or walking while watering the lawn or garden
  • 3.5 - Trimming shrubs with a power cutter
  • 4.5 - Mowing lawn
  • 5 - Laying sod
  • 6 - Tilling a garden or mowing with hand mower

When my daughter and I finished our gardening activities for the day, we noticed our neighbor’s rhubarb was ready to pick. Because he was working in his yard, he offered me some of the earliest “fruits” of the season.

Rhubarb, or pieplant, is technically a vegetable, but it’s used as a fruit in pies, cakes, sauces and jams. When choosing rhubarb, look for firm, glossy stalks that aren’t large. Don’t nibble on the leaves because they are toxic.

If you have a good crop of rhubarb or a generous friend or neighbor who shares some, here is how to use it or preserve it to use later.

  • Store fresh rhubarb in the crisper of your refrigerator, wash and use within a few days.
  • Freeze rhubarb easily by rinsing thoroughly, then cutting and placing it in freezer bags in recipe-sized portions. You can blanch rhubarb by heating it in boiling water for a minute and cooling it promptly in cold water to help retain color and flavor.
  • Before freezing, you also can add sugar or sugar syrup if desired.

Here’s a recipe from the Rhubarb Compendium at It might remind you of a dessert from your youth. Maybe your mother or grandmother made something similar. You can substitute frozen rhubarb that has been thawed and drained, too. For more information about food, nutrition and gardening, visit the NDSU website at

Rhubarb Torte

1 3/4 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 egg whites

1/2 c. butter or margarine

2 Tbsp. sugar

1/2 c. walnuts, chopped


4 c. fresh or frozen rhubarb, chopped

2 c. sugar

2 egg yolks

1/4 c. flour


4 egg whites

1/2 c. sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Combine first six ingredients with a fork until crumbly. Press into a greased 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Combine filling ingredients. Mix well. Pour over crust. Bake in preheated 350 F oven for 50 to 60 minutes. In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Gradually add sugar and vanilla, beating well. Spread over hot filling. Return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 370 calories, 12 grams (g) of fat, 5 g of protein, 62 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 80 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – June 6, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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