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Growing Diabetes Support in the Garden

Horticulturist Robin Haglund learns new ways to garden

Laura Kolodjeski of Sanofi US DiabetesLaura Kolodjeski

Over the past several months, I’ve come to a newfound appreciation for vegetables. Kathryn Sheehan has me looking for ways to sneak green goodies into my family’s diet, and I’m still anxious to try Christine Tolhurst’s cauliflower pizza crust. Now, thanks to Certified Professional Horticulturist and garden coach Robin Haglund, I’m interested in trying the “sunchoke.” Intrigued? Read on!

Growing Up Green

Descended from several generations of farmers, Robin started gardening as a child, and in fact doesn’t remember a time she wasn’t digging around in the dirt. After working in the publishing and high-tech fields, Robin found herself looking for a way to make gardening a career.

“It was very much an epiphany,” she remembered. “I was out pulling weeds on a cold rainy day and thinking about having to get up the next day and being stuck inside behind a desk, and I was very unhappy with that. That was the moment where I thought, ‘Hey, people garden for a living, so why can’t I find a way to make that happen?’ That’s what inspired me to follow a path to start Garden Mentors®, which is focused on empowering others in their own gardens.”

A Fresh Start

When Robin’s husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in early 2012, she rolled up her sleeves again. Already exercising regularly and eating a majority of locally-sourced and homegrown organic whole foods, her husband wanted to explore additional options for making healthier lifestyle changes. “Out of that came a big change for me,” said Robin. “I do most of the cooking in our house and it was like having to relearn all the cooking I’ve done for 40 years, getting rid of the staples that we were used to having and adding new ones in. But because I love him, I was 100% on board with helping him find ways to get healthier.”

In addition to cleaning out their pantry, Robin attended doctor and nutritionist appointments with her husband. She also took a hard look at their home gardening efforts and started researching a variety of foods, consulting other growers for resources on where to find some of the uncommon plants. “We’ve learned that there are a lot of really fantastic foods that we can be growing and eating at home that might be helpful alternatives, and we think they are really delicious,” she said.

One plant they’ve replaced in their diet is the potato. Since her husband particularly missed French fries, Robin started looking at what they could grow instead, such as the Jerusalem artichoke, also known as the sunchoke. It’s actually in the sunflower family and produces an edible root that, to her, is a lot like a potato. “They don’t have that fluffy starchiness of a potato, but they can be roasted, mashed or made into a chip.”

Chicken taco bowl with cabbage © Garden Mentors, Inc.
Chicken taco bowl with cabbage
© Garden Mentors, Inc.

Cabbage is also a mainstay in their diet. “Taco night with a corn shell or rice and beans used to be a regular thing for us. Those things are gone,” she said. “Now we have taco bowls with fresh, crunchy, sweet cabbage straight out of the garden, chopped up into a bowl and topped with either beef or chicken or something with a nice spicy rub on it, maybe even with a little cinnamon, salsa and guacamole.”

When her husband removed dairy from his diet, Robin started making almond and hazelnut milks for him. With the leftover nut pulp, she makes spicy, grain-free taco chips. Robin is currently developing a variety of other recipes.

After making dietary changes and working with his doctors, Robin’s husband’s blood work now puts him in range.

Please note that the food substitutions mentioned above may not be appropriate for all people with diabetes. Anyone interested in starting a new diet should always speak with their healthcare provider and/or Certified Diabetes Educator® before making dietary changes.

Gardening Against Diabetes

In February 2014, Robin compiled much of her extensive research into a seminar she calls, “Gardening Against Diabetes,” and created a resource page on her website. In the seminar, she shares her family’s experience making diabetes lifestyle changes, and offers suggestions on foods to grow in a home garden. “It took so much work for us to go through this process,” she said. “I realized if I share this information with people, then it may make their lives a little bit easier. That was the real big inspiration – not wanting anybody to have to fight as hard as we did to find this sort of information.”

Robin Haglund presenting at the 2013 Northwest Flower and Garden Show™. © Garden Mentors, Inc.
Robin Haglund presenting at the 2013 Northwest Flower and Garden Show™.
© Garden Mentors, Inc.

The “Gardening Against Diabetes” seminar is available year-round; interested parties can contact Robin via her website to request the live presentation.

Robin’s advice for starting a garden: go ahead and give it a shot. “We all have to start somewhere,” she said. “Be okay if something fails or dies. I hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I can’t garden. I have a naturally black thumb.’ You know what? Black is actually the color of a gardener’s thumb. My thumb is constantly black because it’s dirty. Honestly, I’m killing things in the garden all the time. Just trying is a big part of getting there.”

I was fascinated to hear about the veggie swaps Robin has made in their home and commend her enthusiastic support of her husband. It sounds like she is putting her passion for planting to good use. For more ideas on getting in your veggies, be sure to check out Great Greens and What to Eat When on The DX. My thanks to Robin for sharing her story.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Robin Haglund received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

Garden Mentors is a registered service mark of Garden Mentors, Inc.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show is a registered service mark of To-Ro Enterprises, Inc.

“Certified Diabetes Educator” is a certification mark owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

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