The Natural Prairie & Community Garden at Advocate Sherman Hospital produces a bounty of benefits.
When Advocate Sherman Hospital constructed its new location in Elgin, Ill., an expanse of land on the property was a blank canvas. Master Gardener Patsy Hirsch, a regular volunteer at the hospital, saw more than empty space. She asked then CEO Rick Floyd, “Wouldn’t this be a great place to put in a community garden?”
That conversation seven years ago planted the seed for Advocate Sherman Community Garden. “We make people healthy here through our services in the hospital, but it really starts with what we ‘put in’ and ‘take out’ of our bodies through food and exercise,” Hirsch relates.
A community garden helps answer the question: Where does food come from? And in a hustle-bustle world filled with convenience foods and eating on the run, the connection between farm and fork is not always so easy to make. That said, more people are interested in learning about food and adopting healthier.
The benefits of a Community Garden at Advocate Sherman are many: helping people in the Elgin area learn how to garden and grow their own food; providing a gratifying form of exercise in the great outdoors; and establishing an enriching foundation so community gardeners may try the practice at their own homes.
Those who participate reap rewards—a bounty of fresh food and camaraderie with other gardeners. “Sherman Advocate is taking an active role in the community,” says Rob Boosey, account manager at Sebert Landscape, which partnered with the hospital to help with maintenance at the Natural Prairie & Community Garden site. Sebert Landscape will refresh the soil in the 48 garden beds, maintain the surrounding lawn and help with other tasks.
“It’s important for us to act responsibly and support our clients in their efforts, and develop these partnerships” Boosey says.
And, more organizations like Sherman Advocate Hospital are focused on providing a healthy environment for employees, patients and the community at-large. “There’s greater awareness of health and wellness as a critical component of the big picture, and those with LEED-certified buildings are especially attuned to fulfilling a greater mission that goes beyond constructing a ‘green building,’” says Jeff Sebert, president, Sebert Landscape. “Add to that fact, Millenials are changing the way we look at food, and are driving an $18-billion food revolution that’s all about eating healthy and caring where your food comes from.”
For stakeholders of the Sherman Advocate Hospital Community Garden, food comes from “home."
The Community Garden has grown each year and includes beds of different sizes. Gardeners sign up in groups—some departments in the hospital work a garden, other individuals adopt a garden and bring in their families to help. Three years ago, Sherman Advocate opened up the garden to the entire community.
“At first, our hospital employees were the ‘testing ground’ you might say, until we were comfortable with what we were doing,” Hirsch says.
Hirsch reflects on setting up the gardens—and sourcing materials. She learned to not be afraid to ask for help. When she shared the plans for the garden at Lowe’s in Elgin, a manager told her about an employee volunteer program there. “They wanted to help build the gardens for us, and I cried happy tears,” Hirsh says, relating that the Community Garden truly is a product of people coming together.
A local nursery donated soil and compost for the raised garden beds. A resident donated a water line to help irrigate the gardens. “We had a garden, and all of this happened within a two-month period of time,” she says. “We can say that the garden was built by the community, and the community members are the growers.”
Then in 2013, a couple of seasons after the initial garden beds were constructed, Hirsh and volunteers saw a demand to expand the garden. Word of mouth had spread, and more people wanted to participate. Hirsch reached out to a local schoolteacher in Elgin, who offered the community service project to a dozen of her students.
They showed up on a misty, fall day to build 10 new garden beds. “It was so muddy—but they learned lot and were wonderful,” Hirsh says.
The students wanted to know: How can we go about getting one of these gardens? “I said, ‘Let’s consider it done,’” Hirsch relates. The Community Garden committee agreed, of course, and the students were the first gardeners to join the effort from outside of the hospital.
From there, community involvement continued to expand.
“The Community Garden has really been embraced here, and each year we try to do more,” says Dina Lunceford, volunteer manager at Sherman Advocate Hospital.
The extra bounty is collected in a bin that stays on the Community Garden site and is donated to the Food for Greater Elgin food pantry. “We are helping local individuals right here in Elgin,” Lunceford says. “Produce is coming right from our campus and going directly to those people in the community, and they love it.”
The food pantry has a bed at the Community Garden, too. “We have a nice partnership and the produce really goes a long way,” Lunceford says.
Aside from growing and harvesting produce, the Community Garden is a place for people to learn and grow as individuals. Ongoing educational programs on a range of topics draw in volunteers. Hirsch, a master gardener with the University of Illinois extension office, also arranges for extension volunteers to present and help work in the gardens. Events include hands-on demonstrations.
This year, 12 master gardeners assisted with a range of tasks, and shared their knowledge to the community gardeners. And, with a class of master gardener trainees currently earning their certification, the pool of knowledgeable volunteers continues to grow, Hirsh says. They are looking forward to helping out, and that will help us develop our program further.
Last year, a new pergola was built and dedicated, and a storage area for garden tools was constructed. A Girl Scout created a small butterfly garden on the site as a service project—a complement to the ground’s natural prairie.
With spring kickoff scheduled for March 16, 2016, volunteers and community participants are looking forward to another rewarding growing year. “I can’t wait to see where we’ll go with the garden this year,” Hirsch says.
Sebert adds, “Giving back is contagious. The satisfaction of helping someone else and giving others an opportunity to learn from the experiences they gain by participating in a community garden is so rewarding for all of us.”
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