You can’t ‘beet’ a partnership like this one. In 2013, Margo Cybulski, Ryan O’Connor, Nancy Weber and Brenda Wood from Community Living Huntsville (CLH) began growing vegetables in a plot at the Huntsville Fair Grounds. At first, Cybulski, O’Connor and Wood were taking home their harvest but last year decided to do something inclusive to help their community instead.
When they approached staff at Huntsville District Memorial Hospital about donating vegetables to be used in patient meals, the answer was a resounding yes. The two groups got together and came up with a plan for what would most benefit patients and in May 2016 the CLH gardeners got to work with seeds, seedlings and manure donated by Huntsville Home Hardware.
Every week, whichever vegetables were ready to harvest were delivered to Chef Murray Reid and the food and nutrition services staff at the hospital. A steady parade of lettuce, kale, beans, tomatoes, peppers, celery, cabbage, onions, beets and carrots made their way to the hospital’s kitchen throughout the summer to be turned into delicious meals for patients.
“The food and nutrition services staff were very proud to be serving the produce,” said Bev Leslie-Suddaby, the hospital’s manager of support services. “Our patients were just thrilled to be eating local produce and said they could taste the difference with the fresh produce in our meals. Patients are eating their food, it tastes really good, and there’s very little waste.”
Leslie-Suddaby adds that patients are interested in where the food is coming from, making it a point of conversation. “It tastes good, looks good and it’s a great partnership that we can talk about with our patients.”
The hospital’s food and nutrition services staff adapts their menu to use the produce that CLH delivers as soon as possible. “We set a goal to use at least 30 per cent of our food budget on local food – we work really hard at that,” says Leslie-Suddaby. “What they donate to us certainly helps.”
Community Living also helps the hospital by diverting some of their food waste from landfills. Only Huntsville’s residential properties have curbside green bin pick up for organic waste, so CLH is taking the hospital’s clean compost – containing only fruit and vegetable waste from the cook’s station, not what returns to the kitchen unconsumed – to the fairgrounds for use in its garden plots.
It’s a lot of work, but the small CLH group is proud of what they’ve accomplished. “It’s a big responsibility but we’re doing it for a purpose,” says Wood. “We are helping the people in the hospital get what they need so they can get out of there.”
It went so well that they plan to do it again and have increased the size of their garden to three plots (300 sq. ft.) this year. To help continue its success, they are reaching out to the community for assistance. The hospital will be providing the seeds and seedlings and Huntsville Home Hardware will continue to provide supplies, says Weber. What CLH really needs are volunteers to help with weeding, watering and maintaining the garden. If you can help, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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