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How a community garden can bear more than the fruit of its trees

How a community garden can bear more than the fruit of its trees

Published on August 23, 2018

Throughout history, our communities have inspired purpose in our everyday lives. Today, we continue to improve our communities, providing support and encouragement to those around us. At Adventist Health, we’ve found that joining together to steward and maintain a community-driven garden bears more than just the fruit of its trees. Our on-site gardens continue to provide a healing space to invest in the health and wellness of our communities - growing our mission to inspire health, wholeness and hope in the areas we serve.

A garden to educate and inspire.
Adventist Health White Memorial in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, Calif.

This small 1/3-acre lot sits amidst the inner-city streets of East Los Angeles. While space is sparse, the community garden of Adventist Health White Memorial serves a mighty cause. With more than 50 fruit trees, a vast array of vegetables and a tilapia fish farm to help organically fertilize the garden, men, women and children gather here to learn about the benefits of small-space gardening. Although it’s not intended for the mass production of food, this vibrant and flourishing space offers the community an outdoor classroom and living lab. The purpose is to teach residents how to practically duplicate these health and nutrition practices in their apartments, backyards, balconies, schools and beyond.

With six strategic partners, Adventist Health White Memorial continues to grow the garden into a thriving community space. The Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA holds classes every Tuesday in the garden teaching local youth to plant, harvest and use the freshly grown food for home-cooked meals. Children create everything from delicious kale salads to flavorful smoothies while learning about the positive effects of organic and sustainable farming. Adventist Health White Memorial staff plans to expand the model into schools and educational programs – promoting the practice of gardening into regular curriculum.

In addition to educational programs for both children and adults, the garden offers a free space for relaxation, reflection and physical betterment. People can often be seen entering the garden in the morning for a daily stretching routine or a pleasant walk. There are benches and a canopy area to enjoy a conversation or meal away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Even the executive hospital staff breaks from the conference room to hold regularly scheduled meetings in the garden. All of the produce from the garden is harvested and set out for the community. Members of the community, in turn, continue to donate materials and time to the betterment of the garden.

No matter the size of a living space, the garden proves that visitors can conveniently incorporate healthy practices into their everyday life. Garden administrators plan to extend the garden seedlings and bed boxes as well as add a chicken coop later this year.

A garden to nourish and heal.
Adventist Health Howard Memorial in Willits, Calif.

The Commonwealth Garden plays an integral part in sharing the message of health and wellness. Created in 2007 by the Frank R. Howard Foundation, the garden was born out of a desire to promote education outreach and community wellness within a hospital setting. It is the first U.S. registered organic garden that directly nourishes patients of a specified hospital. Through a collaboration with Adventist Health Howard Memorial, the five-acre garden produces food for the patients, staff and visitors of the hospital, in addition to local programs like the Willits Food Bank and Senior Center. It has become a great platform for emphasizing the message of wellness and truly helps the community make the connection between food and health.

Transforming the healthcare experience, this garden promotes healing through the power of natural nutrition – influencing healthy habits that travel from the hospital into our homes. Members of the community can even visit the hospital’s exclusive restaurant – Roots to enjoy the farm-to-table meals prepared by renowned chef Kyle Evans. The restaurant, which primarily uses produce from the garden and tailors their menu depending on the harvest has also become a great venue not just for bringing home the message about wellness, but also as a place for community members to connect, a true nod to the small-town culture of Willits. The restaurant was also designed with the message of wellness in mind; there are no walls and the open layout allows patrons to see their food as its prepared from scratch, demonstrating that healthy eating can be simple and delicious at the same time.

In the summer months, when harvest is abundant, the garden opens up its farm, allowing the community to come and share in the bounty for a small donation.

The Commonwealth Garden also serves as a great venue for the hospital and community events and serves as a place for hospital staff to relax, exercise and connect with nature especially with the nearby walking trail, further emphasizing the message of wellness.

Year after year, the garden continues to evolve the practice of sustainable farming – expanding its infrastructure to include energy-saving power systems, advanced irrigation, a greenhouse and the introduction of new and delicious foods. Through the health and healing of the Commonwealth Garden and the partnership between the Frank R. Howard Foundation and Adventist Health Howard Memorial, lives are transformed as health is inspired well beyond the hospital walls.

We thank our incredible staff and dedicated volunteers and community partners who continue to inspire whole person health in our communities and beyond. To learn more about these community gardens and the different ways to get involved, please contact Cesar Armendariz at Adventist Heath White Memorial and Ananda Johnson at the Frank R. Howard Foundation.


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