About this time last year, I was asked to collaborate on a very exciting project. The UVM Medical Center’s beautiful rooftop gardens, which had been used to grow a small amount of food for the hospital kitchens, were to be transformed into teaching gardens.
The plan was to invite members of our hospital community who had no experience growing a vegetable garden, and teach them to do just that! Our prospective students had to meet two criteria:
- They had to really want to learn to grow veggies, and
- They had to want to learn how to prepare them in healthy ways.
The planned hands-on learning experience was to be co-lead by Lisa Hoare, our talented gardener, and myself, a dietitian with a lot of veggie-gardening experience.
We launched this pilot project with an invitation to a couple of departments, to have any interested staff apply. We got a great response – far more folks applied than we could accommodate. We chose those who best fit our criteria (not an easy task). Then, with our band of 10 enthused, eager gardeners, we began our adventure!
Every week, during a “formal” two-hour outdoor workshop, we covered a gardening and a nutrition topic. Each topic was pertinent to what was going on in the garden that week. We used a method called “Square Foot Gardening,” popularized by gardener Mel Bartholomew, in his book of the same name. This is a great method for beginner gardeners who are gardening in a small space, as it breaks down the space into manageable foot-square blocks, with recommendations for how much of which plant will fit into each block. (For instance, he recommends planting 16 carrot seeds in a square foot, but only one broccoli plant, because of the size difference in these plants). For someone who has never planted a carrot or broccoli before, this method allows them to “wrap their minds around” each plants space requirements. It also makes the whole planting space feel very manageable.
A fun addition to the classes was our hands-on cooking demonstrations, which we did most weeks on the grill in the garden. These were designed to allow our students a chance to help prepare the wonderful produce that they were growing, in healthy, quick, and easy ways. We discovered the amazing versatility of the grill; we did everything from making soup to canning jam on it!
Our students were incredibly enthusiastic and good-natured! Their passion for growing their gardens was palpable! There’s nothing more wonderful than seeing someone harvest something that they grew themselves for the very first time. The magic of that first cherry tomato plucked from the vine, and eaten with true appreciation for its complex flavors. Those first handsome carrots emerging from the dirt, rinsed, and passed around for all to chomp!
This year, we’ll be expanding this program, with workshops at the rooftop garden at the main campus, and at the Fanny Allen campus. Watch for informational flyers with more details. We can’t wait for another season of reveling in the dirt and seeing the delight of people growing their own food!
Spinach Salad with Parmesan Curls
- 1lbfresh baby spinach
- 3/4cupchopped walnuts
- 1 1/2cupssliced strawberries
- parmesan cheese, thickly grated or cut into curls
- 1/4cupextra virgin olive oil
- 2Tbspbalsamic vinegar
- grated salt (optional) and black pepper to taste
- optional ingredients: red onion, dry mustard, dill, any other herbs that you like!
- Combine salad ingredients in a bowl.
- Whisk oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, and any optional herbs and spices together.
- Drizzle dressing over salad and enjoy!
Maryann Ludlow, RD, CD, CDE, is a registered dietitian at the UVM Medical Center.