A Publication of WTVP

Community gardens make a difference in the lives of patients… and the community.

One focus of the Affordable Care Act is wellness, being proactive in providing care and working to improve the health of the community. Healthcare providers need to find ways to keep patients out of hospitals and doctor’s offices. Something as simple as changing the way a person eats can make a world of difference. But as anyone who tries to eat healthy knows, that isn’t always easy, accessible or inexpensive.

One way the team at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center is making an impact is through gardening. Yes, growing our own fresh produce—and giving away what is grown, for free.

The Corner Garden
Kim Keenan, a licensed clinical social worker, started the garden on the OSF Saint Francis campus in the spring of 2013 in elevated boxes outside Sisters Clinic, now Heartland Community Clinic, on East Armstrong Avenue. The “Corner Garden,” as it’s now called, is in its second year, with planning well underway.

Keenan is enthusiastic in her explanation of this and the other community gardens she oversees, which is pretty impressive for someone who isn’t really a big fan of gardening. But she sees what a difference both the growing process and harvested produce mean for patients and others.

“We had great success with donating over 500 pounds of produce to our clinic patients alone,” said Keenan. “Each week during growing season, we had a featured ‘produce of the week’ where nutritional fun facts were posted, along with OSF dietary interns providing once-a-week taste testing and recipe sharing to clinic families and staff. This was a huge hit with the clinic.”

Upkeep and maintenance of the garden is handled by clinic staff, with a job board posted in the back hallway of the clinic featuring the necessary duties for the week. The garden beds rest against the pediatric exam rooms for the enjoyment of all during the workday, and there are a couple of picnic tables nearby for patients and staff to sit and enjoy the outdoor area.

Excitement for the Season
The project even spread beyond the on-site garden, creating an even bigger impact on the health of the community. “When planting got underway last year, we were contacted by a generous Peoria Heights resident, as well as Kroger, about our interest in obtaining soon-to-be-discarded plants,” Keenan explains. “These plants were given to clinic families to use in their own gardens. The interest in home gardening is a definite plus in establishing greater independence for our families in contributing to their own healthy meal preparation. We are hopeful to be able to obtain plants again this year through donors for this purpose, and to share easy home gardening tips such as container, bucket or recyclable bag gardening.”

Keenan oversees seven Peoria community gardens as part of her work with the gitm (Gifts In The Moment) Foundation, which she cofounded with Denise Urycki, RPh, in 2008. They have seen firsthand what the gardens have done for the young people they work with by growing their own food and giving them a sense of accomplishment, as well as healthy eating habits that spread throughout their families.

Keenan says patients are very excited about the upcoming year, asking already in March when everything will start. “One clinic patient spent her winter designing and painting new educational signs for the produce. She shared that the harsh winter project kept her hopeful for spring.”

This year’s garden will include strawberries, tomatoes, radishes, onions, collards, parsley, basil, cilantro, Swiss chard, kale and peppers. Last year, the herbs were harvested and used for several OSF dietary-catered events. OSF Dietitian Golda Ewalt is planning on expanding this service to patients in the hospital this year, according to Keenan. iBi

For more information on how to support the community gardens, email [email protected].