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NMSU, UNM to partner for study involving Master Gardeners and cancer survivors

New Mexico State University will be teaming up with the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center for an upcoming Southwest Harvest for Health research study.


tomato plant
New Mexico State University is partnering with the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center for an upcoming Southwest Harvest for Health research study. The study will pair cancer survivors who have completed their primary cancer treatment with local Master Gardeners to plan, plant, maintain and harvest three seasonal gardens. The study will take place in 2020 and will measure the effects of gardening on overall health and functioning, quality of life, and more. (Photo courtesy of Adrian Gaytan)

The study, which will take place in early 2020, will pair cancer survivors who have completed their primary cancer treatment with local Master Gardeners. The “Survivor-Master Gardener” team will work together to plan, plant, maintain and harvest three seasonal gardens at the survivor’s home.

This study will measure the effects of gardening on overall health and functioning, quality of life and more. The Southwest Harvest for Health Study will provide the supplies and tools needed for each participant to start their home vegetable garden. The Master Gardener mentor will call and schedule a visit with their survivor partner once a month for nine months. During those visits, the mentors will check on the garden’s progress, troubleshoot garden issues and offer any encouragement as well as suggestions for success.

Cindy Blair, a cancer epidemiologist at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center and School of Medicine, reached out to the Master Gardener program at NMSU. The initial pilot study will be limited to a 60-mile radius of Albuquerque with possibly 20 to 25 Master Gardeners participating. The Master Gardeners in the pilot program will be in the Bernalillo and Sandoval county area.

“This original program was done in the state of Alabama where Cindy Blair participated in that initial grant. So now she wants to replicate the study here in the state of New Mexico and NMSU is the matrix for the Master Gardener program in the state,” said Eduardo Servin, state manager for Master Gardeners at NMSU. “It’s such a great thing to be able to work in collaboration with UNM and Master Gardeners throughout the state for such a worthy cause. Cancer survivors benefited from this activity in Alabama and we are bringing that idea to New Mexico.”

Blair spent two years working on the initial research conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in collaboration with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Office. The pilot study found that survivors that participated in increased vegetable consumption, physical activity, and function and experienced an improved quality of life. Additionally, many participants continued gardening after the first year. Of breast cancer participants, 100 percent stated they would “do it again” and one year later 86 percent were still gardening.

“Vegetable gardening is an integrated approach to promote a healthful diet, physical activity, and psychosocial well-being,” Blair said. “Master Gardeners are key to the success of the Harvest for Health Program and we invite them to join us as we adapt the program to the Southwest.”

Servin said that county supervisors for the program are very excited about this study and are already enthusiastically promoting it to the local Master Gardeners.

“The benefits of this program are not only for the cancer survivor, but also will benefit the Master Gardeners from all over the state of New Mexico,” Servin said. “Data will be collected and will be able to be used in practical terms for the study of recovery from diseases such as cancer.”

Sara Moran-Duran, a horticultural extension agent at NMSU said the program would be an excellent experience for Master Gardeners. They will be mentoring the cancer survivors through the entire gardening process.

“The Master Gardeners will share their knowledge, troubleshoot gardening issues, and have fun teaching and learning. Neither the Master Gardener nor the cancer survivor will be alone in this gardening process,” Moran-Duran said. “The Southwest Harvest for Health Study is more than just planting and growing. It will involve teamwork, planning, learning, communicating, and physical activity too. There will also be time to relax and enjoy your accomplishments, and then, every step will be worth it.”

Both Servin and Blair understand the therapeutic benefits of horticulture interventions. Their teams will begin documenting the health benefits of gardening for cancer survivors from our communities in the Bernalillo and Sandoval County areas.

“It is an unbelievable opportunity to be able to partner with UNM in such a worthy study. This will not only benefit the survivors but the whole state of New Mexico as well. The creative researchers, such as Blair and Dr. Elizabeth Harding, are incorporating gardening ideas to benefit the health of communities in New Mexico. This is exciting and I'm proud and lucky to be a part of such a great study.”