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Monday, June 20, 2016

Planting a Seed, Feeding a Community

Posted By: Advancing Care

Good Samaritan Hospital’s Garden of Hope nourishes bodies, minds and spirits.

By Ali Jackson-Jolley

When Rockland County’s food pantries began facing steep budget cuts in 2011, an innovative idea took root within the Catholic Community Services of Rockland: to actually grow the food to stock the pantries. Joining this fight against hunger, Good Samaritan Hospital, a Member of Westchester Medical Center Health Network, offered to host a garden that would supply produce to a neighboring food pantry—the Christ Episcopal Church food pantry in Suffern. “We’re a community hospital, and when the food pantries in Rockland County needed help, we felt that this would be a really great way to support the community that we serve,” explains Anne Meore, Horticultural Therapist & Garden Projects Coordinator at Good Samaritan Hospital. And so, in 2012, as funded by a Bon Secours Charity Health Systems Healthy Communities grant, the 32’ by 40’, fully accessible community garden was launched and aptly named The Garden of Hope.

Fast forward to today, when this industrious little garden currently cranks out an incredible 900 pounds of fresh produce yearly (up from the 52 pounds produced in its inaugural year). Located within the hospital’s campus, the garden features a fully irrigated planting system, as well as wheelchair-accessible planting beds and vertical growing walls. The garden is actually one of three sister gardens aimed at supporting Rockland County’s food banks (including The Garden of Love in Haverstraw and The Garden of Faith in Nyack). While The Garden of Hope has been undeniably successful in its mission to provide fresh produce to Rockland’s neediest, Meore says fighting hunger is only part of the garden’s story. “The garden’s value is not only in growing the perfect tomatoes but also in the process of getting there. We don’t just grow food; we grow relationships. We grow people,” says Meore.

For example, neighboring organizations like Jawonio (a service provider for people with intellectual/developmental challenges) bring their residents to The Garden of Hope for regular horticulture therapy sessions. Jawonio’s day residents come, learn about the plants and pot up a plant to take back with them to their own facility, all before going to work in the garden beds. “They know that whatever they are helping to grow in the garden is eventually donated to our local food pantry, so they are making a real contribution to our community,” Meore explains.

A community member participates in horticultural therapy with Anne Meore, Registered Horticultural Therapist.

A community member participates in horticultural therapy with Anne Meore, Registered Horticultural Therapist.

And of course Good Samaritan’s own patients also reap the benefits of garden therapy. While the hospital’s behavioral-health outpatients have just started to receive horticultural-therapy sessions in the garden, patients from the inpatient chemical dependency unit have been participating in horticultural therapy for years. According to Meore, those who struggle with addiction can also benefit greatly by caring for a garden. The opportunity to cultivate and nuture plants can offer a huge boost to someone’s self-esteem, which in turn can have a positive impact not only on their recovery but on their quality of life overall.

Then, there are the special events aimed at promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyles such as the No-Cook Cooking Class that bring together the patients, staff and the community. The No-Cook class is a monthly event that provides quick, easy and fun classes on what to do with fresh produce without using a heating element, designed so that recipients from the food pantry (who may not have a heating element in their homes) can enjoy the fresh produce.

But perhaps the garden’s biggest impact comes when it is used simply as a restorative green space. “It’s a reprieve for families of patients, for the patients themselves and for hospital staff,” Meore explains. “Our staff are often under extreme pressure, and sometimes just a walk through the garden is an opportunity for them to decompress.  These restorative environments address mental fatigue syndrome, relieving them of stress, which in turn allows them to provide better care for our patients!” •