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Health Center Gardens Harvesting Health

Community gardens at Colorado health centers are filling a critical need in areas considered food deserts. (Pixabay)
Community gardens at Colorado health centers are filling a critical need in areas considered food deserts. (Pixabay)
August 10, 2017

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Children in Fort Collins on Thursday are bringing their harvest of fresh vegetables to a farmer's market at Salud Family Health Centers' east location.

It's part of a statewide effort by community health centers to incorporate gardening as a way to improve mental and physical health.

Jennifer Morse, Salud’s vice president for development, says the clinic's gardens, developed in partnership with the nonprofit group Sproutin' Up, are filling an important need in an area considered to be a food desert.

"Kids from the neighborhood, they ride their bikes, they come and work in the garden,” she explains. “So everything from the seeding, and then watching, of course, them start to grow and being responsible for that. Take home these vegetables that they grow, they talk about how to prepare them with their families."

Morse says in the ZIP code of Salud's west center – 80521, where the gardens are located – there's not a single market that offers fresh produce.

She adds many of Salud's patients are low-income, and having access to free, fresh produce can mean not having to decide between paying rent or buying food.

Jim Garcia, CEO of Clínica Tepeyac in Denver's Globeville neighborhood, says community gardens are a critical component of holistic health.

Working with Denver Urban Gardens, the health center constructed plots that are now used by local residents, churches, youth justice groups and patients.

"We promote it on a regular basis to our patients, encourage them to adopt a garden plot where they can grow their own vegetables,” Garcia explains. “To be able to consume what you've grown is just a really good experience."

Morse says children really dig being a part of the entire growing process. She adds watching seeds transform into vegetables children are eager to eat also brings home an important lesson about where real food actually comes from.

"Our hope is that the kids that we work with on Sproutin' Up, they'll be community leaders, they'll learn leadership skills,” she states. “But really we just want to make sure that they develop healthy eating habits early in life that can carry them through the rest of their life."

Morse notes Salud's garden program has grown a lot just in the past six months. She says after this year's harvest, the next step will be to connect produce from the clinic’s gardens with local food pantries, so that more families can have access to healthy food.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO