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Guest Post: Exploring The Healing Powers Of Food Gardens

Guest Post: Exploring The Healing Powers Of Food Gardens
There are growing pressures on healthcare facilities to improve their food offerings and incorporate food gardens into their health programs. Facilities across North America have been signing the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, and revamping their kitchens, menus, and nutrition programs. Initiatives like the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care and Farm to Cafeteria are pressing for sector-wide changes to institutional food. A growing number of health care facilities are also using or considering the use of gardens in their therapeutic programs. On-site food production has tremendous potential to improve nutrition for staff and patients, offer healing spaces, better connect institutions with the communities in which they are located, and provide the long-professed benefits of gardening for all involved – from therapeutic benefits and outdoor physical activities, to developing skills and social relationships in ways that few other activities do.
 
A group of Carleton University graduate students in the "Health: Science, Technology & Policy" program are investigating the health benefits of institutional gardens as their group capstone project. Master’s students Kyle Dwyer, Jodie Lawlor, Jillian McGivern, Emma Pagotto, and Marie-Claire Flores Pajot have spent the last six months developing an extensive literature review and environmental scan of institutional gardens and potential health benefits they may bring. The project was developed with input from three Ontario institutions with active gardens – Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria (Horticultural Therapy Garden), KW Habilitation in Kitchener-Waterloo (Our Farm), and Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital in Thunder Bay (GreenWerks Garden). Supervised by Drs. Susan Aitken, Edana Cassol and Irena Knezevic, and in collaboration with Project SOIL (led by Dr. Phil Mount of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems), the students will deliver a report on their findings this coming April. The report will be accompanied by an inventory of evaluation tools and measurements that can help health care institutions document the benefits of their gardens and programs that use the gardens for therapeutic purposes. The official April launch is being planned at Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria.
 
Project SOIL has grown from collaborative research relationships developed between My Sustainable Canada, the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care and Nourishing Communities research collective. Funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the research focuses on a range of benefits associated with institutional gardens and explores opportunities to develop collaborative arrangements with local food producers. Since 2013, the team has collected data to document the history of institutional food production in Ontario, published four case studies on existing initiatives, supported and documented five pilot projects, surveyed and interviewed institutional administrators to gauge interest in initiating new gardens, and mapped available institutional land in Ontario. Currently, Project SOIL is conducting feasibility assessments and visioning workshops for institutions that are considering on-site gardens. The contribution from the Carleton University students will be essential in continuing the Project SOIL work and equipping health care facilities with evaluation tools and systematically organized evidence on the benefits of gardens. Please check projectsoil.ca in April for their full report and toolkit. You can also the visit the site now for other Project SOIL reports and more information.

Phil Mount is a Principal Investigator, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies,
Wilfrid Laurier University

Irena Knezevic is the Co-investigator, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University


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