Posted September 6, 2013

Improving eating habits is aim of health-focused community garden

A group of children gathered around a flower bed filled with fresh marigold blossoms to watch worker bees buzz from one flower to the next.

“Does anyone know how honey is made,” second-year medical student and Medible Learning Garden volunteer Brian Schafer asked the crowd.

Before he can explain the pollination process, a small group of curious students interrupts with a series of questions about the insects.

“Where do the bees live?” asks one. “Can we go visit their house?” asks another. “Is it okay to try to catch one?”

Educating children and their families about the importance of healthy food choices is the goal of the Medible Learning Garden, located on the side of the Medical Education and Research Building, on the corner of Broad and Venango Streets across from Zion Baptist Church.

The small plot of green space contains several flower beds where seasonal vegetables and herbs have been planted and grown by Temple student volunteers.

Created in 2011 by former pharmacy student Leda Ramoz, the garden started out as a place to teach future health practitioners about the natural origins of medicine.

Now, with a crop of new volunteers, the garden is set to expand in size and scope. Several community programs have been planned for the fall, and gardeners are in the process of building six new, large plant beds, which will double the size of the garden.

Tomatoes, baby carrots, kale, peas and other veggies are grown on one side of the plot. And, there’s a special space for bushels of herbs such as purple basil, lemon balm and fennel.

“Most of the foods we eat are processed, so it’s important for students to gain exposure to how their foods are grown and to understand how they look before they get to the table,” said Ashley Seiver, a graduate student in Occupational Therapy in the College of Health Professions. “It really helps children build a new relationship and an appreciation for the foods they eat when they see where they actually come from.”

As garden tour leaders, Schafer, Seiver and several Temple volunteers host hundreds of children from local schools and daycare centers throughout the summer and fall months. During their sessions in the garden, school-aged children learn where their foods come from, why it’s best to consume a diet high in vegetables and how herbs can cure everything from headaches to bee stings.

Once the foods are harvested, they are packed and donated to local food pantries.

Early exposure to the value of healthy, whole foods helps set the path for better eating habits, said Schafer.

“As a medical student at Temple, I am exposed to patients who are having trouble with illnesses related to consuming processed foods,” he said. “Most illnesses of that nature are preventable with a diet high in quality and dense nutrients. This is just a small way to educate the community about the importance of healthy food choices.”

For more information, visit the Medible Learning Garden website.