As part of an effort to help patients who don’t have access to fresh produce, Akron Children’s has opened an education and wellness garden to fill this void.
“What better way to help our patients who live in food deserts or who have chronic health conditions like diabetes make the connection that healthy food comes from the ground. We want to get them down to the garden and let them pick a tomato or see how a green bean grows,” says Mike Folino, director of support services and one of the project leads. “Our goal is to make the nutrition education process more tactile with our patients.”
The recently planted garden located near the Locust building, features 8 rectangular raised beds with tomatoes, squash, peppers, carrots and radishes. In the future, the plan is to expand the crops to lettuce, kale, herbs and green beans among others.
“What we have planted today is not necessarily what we will have next season,” says Mike. “As we find new needs and new opportunities the garden can evolve.”
In addition to harvesting the produce, patient education will be a big part of the garden’s purpose.
Manager of Nutrition Services Celina Cowan, the garden’s co-lead, says, “We have worked with a committee of dietitians to plan for the educational component. We have a series of educational handouts on the different types of produce so they can see the plant, learn about it and why its healthy and give them tips for how to use it in recipes.”
“The idea is the dietitians will help identify patients who may be interested in or benefit from exposure to fruits and vegetables,” says Mike. “We plan to take patients and families out to the garden for nutrition classes and cooking demos utilizing the different produce we grow.”
Eventually, programming could expand to kids’ clubs and community schools who could take field trips to the garden and possibly have their own dedicated plot.
“We can make it whatever we want as we find different needs,” says Mike. “The sky’s the limit.”
Funded by the hospital, Mike says produce from the garden will also be donated to a new food pantry slated to open later this year on the first floor of the Considine building in front of the Smucker’s Bistro.
On Aug. 2 the hospital hosted a community event announcing the launch of Akron Children’s Hospital’s Food Farmacy pilot program and the wellness and education garden.
The food pantry is a primary component of the hospital’s Food Farmacy pilot program which was funded through an Ohio Department of Medicaid grant to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. State Rep. Emilia Sykes facilitated securing the funds to create the Food Farmacy pilot program in Summit County which allows the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and local hospitals to better serve Summit County residents and provide food and health resources at a time when families can use some extra help.
Funding will be geared toward staffing and infrastructure supplies (like shelves, refrigeration) while the actual non-perishable food items will be provided by the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank. The food pantry will be geared to support patients and employees. Days and hours of operation will be announced.
“The Food Farmacy pilot program is an exciting opportunity for Akron Children’s to help patient families and employees access nutritious foods and improve their health,” says Heather Wuensch, director of community benefit, advocacy and outreach in the External Affairs department. “We are grateful to Rep. Sykes for her leadership and support of the Food Farmacy pilot program and the opportunity to collaborate with our partners at the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank to support the health and well-being of our families in Summit County.”