When CMC-University’s cafeteria runs out of vinaigrette, staff workers don’t reach into the pantry for another industrial-sized bottle. They step outside and walk past the emergency room entrance and through rows of parked cars to the thriving garden out back.
In just a month of use, the hospital’s new teaching garden has grown more than just a steady supply of fruits and vegetables. It has raised a reputation for the kinds of fresh salads and homemade herb vinaigrettes not often found or expected in a hospital cafeteria.
But the new 500-square-foot garden, chock full of fruit trees, berry bushes and vegetable and herb beds, wasn’t created just to pipe fresh produce into the cafeteria. It has an even bigger mission.
The garden was designed to show through example how a community could reintroduce itself to healthier food options.
“Its not that complicated, but we’ve gotten very far away from the nutritional habits that we used to have in this country,” said CMC-University President Bill Leonard. “We needed to do something about our own health, so we can do something more constructively about our community’s health.”
Interested citizens gathered last month at the garden’s ribbon-cutting ceremony to watch Leonard, along with the garden’s designer, CMC-University registered dietitian Elaine Jones, clip the ribbon and open the garden’s gates to the public for the first time.
Jones plans to use the garden in her work at the hospital.
“I speak about the right way to eat inside those walls every day,” she said, standing in the garden with the hospital in the background. “I wanted to create an avenue to teach people how to do it.”
Jones intends the garden to teach school-age children healthier eating as well.
“We’ve led our childhood population astray,” she said. “It’s something we have to go back and correct, and demonstrate to them better habits.”
Leonard said when Jones presented the idea of the garden to him more than a year ago, the concept was easy to approve.
“Obesity is now passing smoking as a greater threat to our population’s health,” he said.
At the ceremony, more than two dozen people wandered along the garden’s raised vegetable beds. They examined green sprouts shooting from the rich dark soil and tasted homegrown raspberry-infused tea and vegetable-topped grilled bruschetta created by a chef in the garden’s outdoor kitchen.
Nancy Fey-Yensan, dean of the college of health and human services at UNC Charlotte, said the garden is good start.
“Most chronic diseases are diet-related,” said Key-Yensan. “That means if we changed the way we ate, choosing more fresh produce and whole grains, and treating meat as a condiment, we would see dramatic changes, perhaps even eradicate obesity and its co-morbidities, heart disease and certain types of cancer.”
Jones plans for the garden to produce harvests year-round, and if the positive response from diners in the cafeteria over the fresh vinaigrette is any indication, she thinks others in the community will relearn to crave healthy and fresh foods again, too.
“The flavor is exceptional,” said Jones. “You can’t compare freshly made.”