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August 12, 2015

Waupaca Hospital Community Garden Grows Quickly

Employees at ThedaCare Medical Center-Waupaca and adjoining ThedaCare facilities are enjoying the fruits of their labor in a new community garden. “It’s gotten to be kind of a fun thing,” said Marci Reynolds, RN, supervisor of health and wellness.

First-time and veteran gardeners fill their plots with produce they can take home. “I think they want to do healthy things,” said Reynolds.

The new garden has grown bigger than Reynolds and the community garden committee planned. But it shows that the gardeners, who range from doctors to nurses to administrative staff, want to walk the talk for their patients, said Reynolds. Gardens provide fresh vegetables that are important for a healthy lifestyle, she said. Community gardens are the resource needed to make a garden happen.

Society is gradually accepting the importance of gardening, she said. “Itis part of changing the culture of how people think about their health,” said Reynolds, noting gardening helps people get on the right track with their health. “People might not think that gardens are a serious enough way to improve health, but through gardening they are thinking about healthier choices and ways to cook their vegetables. Community gardens are an excellent way to change the health culture.”

And that was the point Reynolds and staff at the Health and Wellness Department were making last year when they created a container garden outside the office. “We wanted to do a garden to give people the motivation and inspiration to eat vegetables,” she said.

There was no appropriate land around the building for a garden so the department used money donated by the Waupaca Lioness Club to purchase large containers. They planted tomatoes, broccoli and basil. The planters were a big draw for patients and other hospital staff. “It really impacted people,” said Reynolds.

One day, CEO Craig Kantos visited the container garden and said if Reynolds and others were serious about gardening, and could make it part of a sustainability effort, they could get some hospital-owned land by the old school to use for a garden. A committee was formed and the land prepared for a garden.

Reynolds said the project moved quickly with the help of maintenance staff and garden committee members. A chain link fence was added to keep out the aggressive town deer. Maintenance tilled the top soil. One committee member brought in compost, another hauled wood chips from the town recycling center. And a shed and other tools were brought over from another ThedaCare campus that tried to establish a garden. Reynolds said ThedaCare’s commitment shows a dedication to it employees, and overall, health. “This is a serious thing because they are investing all this time and money into this garden,” she said.

Today the garden is bigger than imagined. The initial plots were reserved right away so plans had to be rearranged to make room for more. In total, 17 active plots are used by a couple individuals from the clinic, a physician, nurses, and several groups. “What is cool about it is everyone is doing their plot differently,” said Reynolds.

There are also garden mentors on the committee, like Sandra Rice, physical therapy assistant in the rehab services department. “I have been gardening since I can remember and I love it but I am no expert,” she said.

She helped plan the plots, planted perennials and had her husband “make a garden bench to make it more welcoming. I also donated some of my seedlings and plants to others.”

Rice is excited to bring the garden vegetables to the table for those who visit the hospital cafeteria. “I am responsible for the Nutrition Services garden plot in hopes of serving up some fresh vegetables for the cafeteria salad bar,” she said.

The community garden also helps connect those working on the hospital campus, said Rice. “I have met other employees but would like to meet them all,” she said. “It is really enjoyable to me to see people bring their kids and get them involved as well.”

Reynolds said the garden is relaxing, providing a place for gardeners to de-stress. “It’s beautiful in there,” she said.

Also, the plots are about a block away from the hospital campus so the jaunt provides a bit of exercise. “It feeds all those different things that impact our health,” she said.  

Reynolds said there are plans to make the garden bigger next year. Gardeners are providing other ideas, like creating a labyrinth.

At the Health and Wellness Department plot, tomatoes have been planted, with the plan to offer a class in the fall that will revive the art of canning. “We want to get more people in the mindset of doing home canning,” she said, noting the practice has health benefits like using reduced sodium. “We want to get people interested in making their own food at home.”

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