Richmond Garden Flourishes

Community and Staff Tend to Their Harvest

09/08/17  Portland, Ore.

Richmond Garden

Richmond patients and staff rolled up their sleeves to help build the clinic's community garden.

Have you ever seen a 10 lb. zucchini? The staff at OHSU Family Medicine at Richmond have - it is one of several hardy vegetables that have flourished in their new community garden. We sat down with one of the Garden's coordinators, Treva Drake, to learn all about the clinic's beautiful little plot of land in the middle of the city.

What is your role at Richmond?

I am the Garden Coordinator / Social Determinants of Health Coordination at Richmond.

How was the idea of a garden conceived?

Brian Frank, M.D. and I, as members of Richmond's Food and Nutrition team collaborate on projects that increase access to healthy foods at a low cost. Dr. Frank had been inspired by Multnomah County's Mid-county and Providence Milwaukie's'  Community Gardens. We had been in conversations with the local non-profit Growing Gardens for some time and were looking for a way to partner with them, and this seemed like a great first step. 

We wanted to find an elegant way to integrate garden education with nutrition education and behavioral health. We also hoped that growing food as patients, staff and neighbors alike, would bring us closer together. For this year's Community Health Center Week celebration my colleague, Laurel Hallock-Koppelman F.N.P., penned our theme, "Community is Health." I think she got it right.

What is the garden's purpose?

The Richmond Community Garden opens a conversation about food and health. We live by Hippocrates' philosophy, "let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food" - meaning food is inarguably the most enjoyable and cost effective way to protect the health of families. 

Unfortunately, many of our patients suffer from food insecurity. Food insecurity is one of the most actionable social determinants of health. Our team believes medical professionals have a key role in furthering health equity.

As an added benefit, the garden is a peaceful and contemplative place. I've seen so many admirers gaze at it over these past months. Many of our patients have had lifetimes of trauma, there is something nurturing to the nerves about gardening. In fact, the core team of our volunteer based Garden Club are folks from our Mindfulness Group led by a member of our Behavioral Health team, Myong O, L.C.S.W. Every week after mindfulness meditation practice, club members come and engage in some mindful gardening. We owe our Garden Club and the Mindfulness Group a lot for keeping this project alive.

What were some of the challenges in starting the garden? What are challenges the garden still faces?

Ongoing programming! But I love a good challenge. There are so many different ways to engage a project like this. I work best from an overall vision and getting a hearty vision for what this garden represents and how we can use it to its fullest. It takes time to see what works and doesn't work. What I have learned in general is that the strongest social determinants of health intervention programs are robust in diversity, like an ecosystem. 

I hope to develop programming that can plug all types of people who want to be involved, in from an experienced gardener to a total newbie. I feel confident that we can partner with community members such as the Oregon Food Bank and accomplish this.

What were some of the (good) surprises?

Initially,  leadership and I were concerned that the garden would be neglected. I pictured worst-case scenario, I would be out there doing it all by myself (and I am a terrible gardener, truth be told!). But this hasn't been the case; our community has many avid gardeners who have wrapped their loving arms around our garden. I have been really surprised by how much people like the garden and take care of it as if it were their own.

What are some of the plans for the garden's future?

First of all we need a sign - we are looking for a builder to help. A lofty dream of ours is to expand and replace all the decorative landscaping with food-producing plants. I would also love to create a patient job opportunity out of its management. Something like a rotating leadership model where we provide training (and possibly a stipend) for an interested patient. I am all about raising up our patients. But in the mean time we need to just tend and harvest and get through our first season. 

Stay tuned for information about a celebration this fall to finish off the garden's first season!