Get healthy and stay healthy thanks to a green environment

‘Going green’ can have a positive impact on people’s health. But how big is that impact? For example, on the well-being of customers at a care farm? And how much do trees contribute to our health by capturing fine particulates? These are questions for which researchers at Plant Research International are seeking answers.

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The Netherlands has around 1,000 care farms which are used by around 20,000 ‘participants’ each year. They benefit from various aspects of the farm and rural life. For example, the green environment, with minimum stimulation and a lot of space, is important for the participants. It gives them the opportunity to withdraw from the world if they want to. In addition, the participants value the equality in their cooperation with the farmers and the like-minded people they are working with. They have conversations about what needs to be done instead of patient-carer discussions about their limitations.
Together with other universities, the researchers are looking at the qualities of care farms and the effects on the participants. They want to know whether problem youths, for example, really get better as a result of their time at a care farm and whether the quality of life of psychiatric patients improves. In this context, the researchers articulate what it means for a participant to deal with plants and animals in a healthy way and what perspectives that offers for a positive outcome. They also analyse whether and how different parts of the farm match the wishes of different target groups.

Trees and fine particulates

A green environment not only has an effect on the well-being of people, it can also have an effect on a specific problem such as the quantity of fine particulates in the air. That effect is not clear-cut. For this reason, our researchers are looking into issues including whether trees around a livestock farm can capture fine particulates. To do so, they are conducting research with trees and artificial fine particulates.

In addition, they are helping municipalities by specifying to what extent vegetation can reduce the amount of fine particulates in the air. A tree does capture fine particulates, but mainly the larger particles. By planting trees, a municipality may be able to achieve targets for the presence of fine particulates in a neighbourhood because those targets are based on weight. But the most harmful particulates are the smallest ones. For this reason, planting more trees does not always actually help to improve the health of people in such a neighbourhood. For municipalities, it is useful to have this kind of information when they are drawing up a green plan.