Last year, I was selected to be a part of the the UVM Medical Center Employee Teaching Community Garden Program. I was interested in the program because I had never gardened before, and I was looking for nutritional information in an attempt to eat better. I suffer from fibromyalgia and chronic back pain and was hoping this program would motivate me to eat more vegetables – particularly vegetables grown organically by me. It worked: By the end of last summer I was eating more vegetables, and I noticed I was feeling better, too!

Then winter set in, and I discovered that I have both gluten and lactose intolerances. Immediately, I removed them from my diet. Since January, I have lost 40 pounds! I was accepted to the program again this year both as a gardener and as a mentor to the new participants. It is truly a rewarding program – and I’m happy to be involved again.

About the Program

The Rooftop Garden is located on the Medical Center Campus in Burlington, Vermont. The area includes nine square, raised beds and five long, rectangular beds. As part of the program fee, we receive our own personal garden plot. .

We focus on organic gardening using Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening method, which teaches us to create specific spacing for each plant variety to yield the highest amount of harvest for that space. To start, we added the soil components listed in Bartholomew’s book Square Foot Gardening and lined the boxes with string to designate the squares; then, we were off. Within a matter of weeks, we were harvesting!

It was exciting to see what wonderful produce grows from placing just one seed in the ground. I was amazed at the transformation each week and the volume of food that came from my own garden. I had enough produce for myself – and was even able to share with friends and family.

Every week, we hold a two-hour group workshop led by an experienced gardener and a registered dietician. We cover topics including Organic vs. Conventional methods, Composting, Preserving the Harvest, Organic Pest Control, How to Save Seeds for next year, Vertical Gardening, and more. We also cook a small meal each week featuring foods that are available for harvest that week. My favorite recipes are for corn, bean and avocado salsa and the plum jelly we canned.

Every week, I posted photos on Facebook and on my desktop at work. Everyone was so impressed with the quality and the abundance of my harvest. This program has certainly allowed me to see food in a new light. I make better choices for local, organic food. I stay away from processed foods and feel better and healthier than ever. I look forward to using this method at my own garden at home next year. It truly is easy and so rewarding to grow my own veggies and enjoy knowing that I am making a difference, planting and nurturing one seed at a time.

Susan Tobin, CPhT, is a pharmacy technician specialist in Pharmacy Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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