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Growing a Healthier Philly, One Community at a Time

By the Microgreens Health Outreach Team

Posted on March 1, 2023
A child sitting at a table pours seeds into a microgreens growing tray

March is National Nutrition Month, and a key aspect of nutrition is the simple ability to access healthy food. Drexel’s Microgreens Health Outreach Project is bridging the gap for marginalized communities at high risk for diet-related disease.

For families living in the West Allegheny area of Philadelphia, getting fresh fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods can be a difficult task—especially for parents with limited resources and a demanding schedule.

Map of the West Allegheny area of Philadelphia, showing only four grocery stores.
Grocery stores available in the Allegheny West neighborhood
Large areas have no supermarket, greengrocer, or farmer’s market within a half-mile walk. These meet the USDA definition of a food desert [pdf], “where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food.” Growing children may not get the important nourishment they require, and people of all ages are at higher risk for diet-related chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

Whether one has a green thumb or not, accessibility to healthy, fresh food is something that should be available to all. The Microgreens Health Outreach Project (a community engagement project of Drexel’s College of Medicine) strives to make healthy eating easier and more convenient for less nutrition-privileged communities. In doing so, we aim to lessen the overall burden of chronic disease and facilitate a better understanding of how food choices affect health. We partner with community-based organizations and academic institutions to teach individuals how to grow microgreens, a nutritious supplement that is accessible, easy to use, time efficient, transportable, and low-cost.

Poor Nutrition: A Chronic Health Crisis

The obesity epidemic increasingly affects millions of people, disproportionately low-income, marginalized communities. According to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s 2021 Health of the City report [pdf], approximately 24% of White, 40% of Black, and 36% of Hispanic adults in Philadelphia are obese. Many more face common chronic diseases that are tied to diet, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, and even some cancers. Yet barriers such as finances, time, transportation, and differing cultural norms impact the nutrition accessible to low-income communities. Just like parts of West Allegheny, multiple neighborhoods in Philadelphia county are classified as food deserts: the approximately 1 million people living in these areas can’t easily purchase affordable, high-quality fresh foods.

Enter Microgreens

Two side-by-side images. Left image shows a gloved hand harvesting a full tray of vibrant microgreens with a knife. Right image shows a mixing bowl next to a tray of microgreens and two bottles of soy sauce; the mixing bowl contains a tuna mixture containing microgreens.Microgreens are young, edible sprouts that can be grown and harvested within one week. They are nutritionally dense, with more digestible vitamins and antioxidants than full-grown plants, so they’re an excellent dietary addition. Microgreens can be cultivated indoors using a small, easy-to-assemble kit, regardless of season or access to land, making them ideal for urban locations. Microgreens can be grown from almost all edible plants, like sunflowers, pea sprouts, and broccoli, and can be eaten in salads, sandwiches, and stir-fries. The Microgreens Health Outreach Program gives participants ranging from the children of the Eliza Shirley house to the students and adults at education events hosted at St. James Episcopal School the skillset to embark on the path of growing their own microgreens for better health.

At Microgreens outreach events, participants fill out a pre-survey that assesses nutritional awareness, watch a 15-minute presentation on chronic diseases and diet, and have a hands-on opportunity to assemble their own microgreens kits. Each microgreens kits provide 2–3 servings of fresh greens for $1.29 per participant. As a bonus, we have seen that teaching individuals how to grow their food via microgreens also grows awareness about health-conscious diets.

Inspiring Culinary Exploration

Three women at a round table inside a large tent, wearing masks but appearing to be smiling. They are holding up three containers of microgreens.Outreach event participants have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. They find the kits easy to grow and well-suited for urban environments with cold winters and limited space. Months after the event, teachers at the St. James Episcopal School told us that they have continued to grow microgreens with the students using the tools we provided them. They even told us they grow extra kits to give out to the local community during their weekly free farmer’s markets! Participants also said that growing microgreens inspired interest in trying new vegetables and growing healthy foods.

We hope to continue to collaborate and expand our outreach events to different communities across Philadelphia, and to further refine our programming for both in-person and virtual formats. Our presentation can be adapted for any age range, and all growing supplies and materials are provided.

This Nutrition Awareness Month, we invite you to learn more and partner with the Microgreens Health Outreach Project. We can be reached at ducomicrogreens@gmail.com!

LEARN MORE

Interested in making microgreens a part of your healthy diet? Drexel faculty and professional staff members can register for our March 15 event, "Microgreens: A Small but Mighty Tool for Nutrition and Disease Prevention," and receive 15 Wellness Points!

The following Drexel students contributed to this post:

  • Rayna Marshall, Drexel University Class of Medicine, Class of 2025
  • Jessica Nwabeke, Drexel University Class of Medicine, Class of 2025
  • Talmadge Gaither, Drexel University Class of Medicine, Class of 2026
  • Cynthia Huang, Drexel University Class of Medicine, Class of 2026
  • Benjamin Haslund-Gourley, Drexel University Class of Medicine, MD/PHD Class of 2026
Posted in physical-health-and-nutrition, public-health, drexel-students, drexel-employees