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Scallop squash, dinosaur kale and hearts of golden melon – what do they have in common? They are being planted, grown and harvested by the Seed to Feed, UHN Real Food Garden Program, a first in UHN's history.
The program was started by Elena Hall, Clinical Study Coordinator at PMH, in partnership with the UHN Green Team Food Group to brainstorm ideas for introducing local, sustainable foods into the hospital community. Together, they founded the Seed to Feed, UHN Real Food Garden – a gardening plot generating fresh produce for a local food bank, hearty fruits and vegetables for ELLICSR's Survivor's Kitchen and new friendships among UHN staff and community members.
Over the past year, Elena has volunteered with several organizations dedicated to producing local fresh foods, including Food Forward and Sustain Ontario. In March 2012, she secured an off-site plot for the UHN Real Food Garden at Scadding Court Community Centre, located at 707 Dundas Street West, across from Toronto Western Hospital. "It was surprising that so many people were unaware you could grow food in the city," says Elena. "People are looking to gain more awareness about where their food comes from."
The 22 members of the Seed to Feed team come from all areas of UHN, including the Survivor's Kitchen Program. A few months ago, the team gathered in the greenhouse to plant a wide variety of organic seeds including black cherries, yellow pear and green zebra tomatoes, jalapeno, rainbow chard, dinosaur kale and dark green zucchini.
Five weeks later, the team transported the seedlings from the greenhouse to a hardening off area at Scadding Court to gradually adjust to the temperature and conditions outside. Over the course of two weeks, the seedlings were moved from the hardening off area into the garden and sprinkled with organic fertilizer.
The Seed to Feed team visits the UHN Real Food Garden at Scadding Court on a rotating schedule – often after work, on break or at lunch. While the team visits the garden to weed, seed and water, it's also about taking in some sunshine, connecting with co-workers beyond the cubicle and enjoying the community space. "Your meeting with friends and colleagues at work that you otherwise wouldn't," says Elena. "It's a great way to unify the hospital community."
In addition to donating part of their harvest to the Fort York Food Bank, the Seed to Feed program will also offer the fruits and veggies of their labour to Chef Geremy Capone's Survivor's Kitchen class at ELLICSR, which teaches cancer survivors to prepare and eat healthy meals throughout their cancer journey. This month, the gardening team will also participate in their first Seed to Feed experience by biting into the first leafy vegetable to bloom in the garden: some crunchy stalks of Swiss Chard!
Based on the success of this year's growing season, Elena hopes to generate interest in securing a gardening plot on-site at UHN next spring. She also hopes to launch a composting program this Fall – the hope is by the time spring comes, the compost will be ready for a new growing season.
If you'd like to follow the UHN Real Food Garden Seed to Feed experience, check out their blog: