‘Dinosaur’ kale, little fingers eggplant, sugar cube cantaloupe, black mission figs and cactus paddles. Plus tomatoes — hundreds upon hundreds of tomatoes – in all shapes, hues and sizes.
Such are just a few of the many dozen fruit and vegetable varieties being grown — and eaten — at OLE Health’s community garden at its new South Napa medical campus.
The garden, next to the campus on Hartle Court in South Napa, was created as a way to educate both clients and the community about healthy eating, food choices, sustainability and wellness.
Combined with the teaching kitchen inside the new campus, “it brings health and wellness full circle,” said RosaLee Kamper, OLE Health director of nutrition, health education and perinatal services.
OLE Health’s new garden is currently about 3,400 square feet. However, if all goes as planned, the garden could eventually double in size by expanding to the north of the current space, said Kamper.
Since the OLE campus opened, the garden has flourished and food has already been used in the teaching kitchen and at other events.
While the garden is not officially open yet –- ADA accessibility measures need to be implemented –- “people are drawn to it” already, said Emily Newman, OLE Health’s garden and culinary wellness educator.
Newman, who is new to OLE Health, said the garden is flourishing, literally.
“It’s going great,” she said. “Things are growing really fast and I’m trying to keep up.” One goal of the garden is to make it a year-round program, “so we always have continuous harvest,” said Newman.
Programs in the garden are currently in the planning stages, said Kamper and Newman.
They will include efforts to help educate people who face food “insecurity,” such as sessions about maximizing space in order to grow as many fruits and vegetables as possible and how to make do with less-than-ideal growing conditions or space constraints.
Other educational components could be demonstrating ways to be resourceful with free or cheap materials and sessions about the most important foods to eat when food is scarce or unaffordable.
That’s not to say OLE hasn’t already been offering some related services.
OLE Health currently offers a free fruit and veggie giveaway in collaboration with the Food Bank on the third Friday of the month (currently at the Pear Tree Lane location). A second monthly giveaway will be launched at the south Napa campus, but a date has not been announced yet.
In addition, “OLE plans to give away any extra produce we don’t use in our educational programming to OLE patients or the Food Bank,” said Kamper.
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Garden-to-plate education programs will offer sessions about nutritional benefits of freshly grown/sourced foods “and dispelling the myth that healthy food doesn’t taste good,” she said.
That program will include providing OLE-garden harvest-themed cooking classes, both internally and in collaboration with community partners.
OLE is currently hosting a Supplemental Nutrition Education Program (SNAP-Ed), six-month series where it gives out OLE garden produce-filled bags to attendees and shows them the basics of how the featured fruit/vegetable items are grown and how they can grow them too, said Kamper.
The nonprofit will encourage planting familiar vegetable varieties to foster or deepen connections that already exist, she said.
However, planting unfamiliar varieties can help people get out of their comfort zone or discover that a certain item can have a surprising flavor profile or different texture, Kamper said. “Sometimes when they thought they didn’t care for a particular fruit or vegetable, they actually do,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t realize that when they try (food) fresh from the garden, the flavors and textures just taste better,” said Newman.
OLE Health registered dietitian nutritionists are already using OLE’s garden harvest items to give to patients during one-on-one consults, while educating about the benefits of fruits and vegetables for chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
“We want this to be a community gathering space” and people to feel “empowered to make better lifestyle choices and eat more fresh foods,” said Newman. And to feel inspired to try growing food at home, as in, ‘I can do this too.’”
A third component of the garden includes horticultural education/therapy.
OLE is providing fruit and veggie trays/displays at the South Napa “greeter” station for patients to take some harvested items as well as sign up for future volunteering and/or be contacted for future educational opportunities, said Kamper.
They also plan to add sessions about plant propagating on a restricted budget or without a greenhouse, sessions about “succession planting” to create a continued harvest, composting education and sessions about the importance of gardening and outdoor activity for overall health and wellness, especially for chronic health issues like diabetes, blood pressure, depression, anxiety and stress.
In fact, “We plan to place a bouquet of flowers/greenery at the greeter station each week with informational material to start spreading the word,” said Kamper.
Plans for a sensory garden are also in the works, said Newman. That could include items like edible or fragrant flowers and plants like lemon verbena, orange mint, lambs ear, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and chocolate daisy.
Garden plans for the future include gardening and culinary activities and classes for OLE patients, conducted independently or with community partners, an OLE volunteer program and OLE open-garden events for anyone to come tour the garden, learn how to get involved and sample produce, said Kamper.
The garden, made possible in part by a grant from OLE Health foundation board member Darioush Khaledi and 100 Men Who Give a Damn, is located at the north end of the campus at 300 Hartle Court, across from the South Napa Century Center.