Lawn to Food Forest: The Social and Environmental Impact of Growing Your Own Food

Lawn to Food Forest: The Founder of Beam Healthcare Explores the Potential Impacts of Community Gardens

While the pandemic caused most of us to explore new hobbies and interests, the founder of Beam Healthcare, Sarjoo Patel, took a hard look at his lawn and decided it needed a change. According to Patel’s wife, his lawn mowing skills were enough to convince her to try something new. Instead of focusing on aesthetics or landscaping, Patel turned his lawn into a food forest to explore how non-profits could impact communities by growing their own food. 

Lawn to Food Forest: The Founder of Beam Healthcare Explores the Potential Impacts of Community Gardens

While the pandemic caused most of us to explore new hobbies and interests, the founder of Beam Healthcare, Sarjoo Patel, took a hard look at his lawn and decided it needed a change. According to Patel’s wife, his lawn mowing skills were enough to convince her to try something new. Instead of focusing on aesthetics or landscaping, Patel turned his lawn into a food forest to explore how non-profits could impact communities by growing their own food. 

Impacts

According to Feeding America, over 40 million people and 13 million children experienced food insecurity in America in 2021. The majority were experiencing hunger before the COVID-19 Pandemic, which only exacerbated the food scarcity issue. Community gardens could change this dynamic while supporting sustainable agriculture and the environment. Not only do community gardens feed communities, but they also reduce the amount of pollution caused by food transportation. They also decrease water runoff, increase ecological biodiversity, and support air and soil quality. Patel wanted to see how one food forest could impact his community socially and ecologically. 

Environmental

Patel explains that his family struggled with maintaining their lawn while prioritizing the family’s health and the environment. Last year, the Patel family dog fell ill due to chemicals used on the lawn. They also noticed a decrease in natural fauna and flora like bees and butterflies, which raised red flags. The EPA claims lawn chemicals like fertilizers and weed killers can be very harmful to the environment, running off into streams, lakes, and rivers. In fact, most wildlife poisonings reported to the EPA are linked to chemicals used on lawns. These chemicals can also be harmful to our health. Long-term exposure can cause neurological disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and congenital disabilities. With this in mind, Sarjoo Patel decided to look for organic solutions to transition his lawn into a food garden to feed his family and the community! 

Stress Management

When Patel decided to jump headfirst into the food forest, quarantine and lockdowns were still in full swing. Being in the healthcare industry in the middle of a global pandemic can be stressful, to say the least. Soon after starting the garden, Patel realized it was a great way to manage stress and create space for mindful thoughts and intentions. Patel isn’t the only one who experiences peace and relaxation in the garden. According to Psychology Today, gardening can improve focus, lift your mood, boost self-esteem, and increase your attention span, making it an ideal pandemic activity. 

Family Bonding

Patel wanted this garden to be more than a pastime. He wanted to involve his seven-year-old stepson to show him what people can create with vision, passion, and patience. So, together, Patel and his stepson created a garden with their own two hands, no heavy equipment required. While the process was slow, Patel instilled important values in his family, created core memories, and nurtured the project to success.

“It was hard work, but it was worth it and yummy” 
– Mason 

Community

Patel has always been passionate about giving back, and that passion has only grown with Patel’s nonprofit, BeamUp Charity. Throughout his gardening experience, Patel was able to donate fruits and vegetables to those in need in his community. Patel realized that food forests are a great way to move away from donating heavily processed or junk foods to those experiencing food poverty. By turning his lawn into a food forest, Patel was able to understand the impact a community garden could have on mental health, food poverty, and obesity at a root level.

Unexpected Outcomes

Patel came into the experience with little to no expectations. Since he started the food forest late in the season, the level of success was up in the air. While he spent countless hours in the garden with his family, they watched their garden blossom into a food forest. This experience provided the opportunity to learn and understand how small scale agriculture can make a significant impact. Thankfully, the garden prospered and produced some unexpected outcomes. 


Variety & Wildlife

The food forest was able to produce a variety of fruits and vegetables, including corn, okra, watermelon, peppers, tomatoes, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnip, radishes, and herbs, along with fruits like raspberries, blackberries, and grapes that were already growing. These fruits and vegetables can provide many essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to those experiencing food poverty. In addition, fruits and veggies from a communal garden would be a healthier alternative than commonly donated processed foods that could lead to illnesses like diabetes. The Patel family also noticed wildlife returning to their garden and were excited to see butterflies and bees back at work pollinating the food forest.

Mental Health & Community Impact

Sarjoo Patel found his food forest to be an oasis of relaxation, claiming it helped him cope with stress and get better sleep. According to Patel, “you get some of the best sleep after a day working in the garden,” Along with improving mental health, the Patels were able to give back to their community by sharing their bounty for free. Because of this, the community donated to BeamUp Charity in return. The food forest was an ideal example of a community working together to increase resources for those in need while supporting a healthy lifestyle for all.

Final Thoughts

There are many benefits to turning your lawn into a food forest. According to Sarjoo Patel, founder of Beam Healthcare, BeamUp Charity, and the food forest, gardening is ideal for the environment, the community, and mental health. While the garden was a learning experience with plenty of positive outcomes, it also shed light on how communities could come together to tackle food insecurity. Through growing this garden, Patel explored how non-profits can create their own food forest and help tackle mental health, obesity, and food poverty in communities everywhere. 

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