ROCHESTER — On a cloudy July afternoon, Mei Liu, founder and CFO of the Lotus Health Foundation, used a trowel to slice a deep line in the soil within a raised garden bed. She asked Dave Pappenfus, a resident at the neighboring Cardinal of Minnesota group home, if he would like to plant some spinach seeds. Lori Philo helped Pappenfus embed the spinach seeds in the soil beside the bushy basil plants.
It was the first rainy day of the month, so the soil was already damp, easing the other volunteers’ efforts at weeding and harvesting plants such as yellow squash and cucumber. Bees buzzed around the native wildflowers near the entrance to the garden.
The FarmacyRx community garden behind the Rochester Clinic building in northeast Rochester is a four-year effort at promoting the tenets of lifestyle medicine: nutrition, movement, stress management, sleep, social connection and passion.
The community garden is currently home to a variety of Western and Eastern produce, including licorice-scented purple basil, tall Chinese mustard sprouts and tender heads of napa cabbage. Yet to be seen are the wine cap mushrooms, which should emerge from a moistened bed of layered cardboard and wood chips in the center of the garden.
Dr. Jengyu Lai, a podiatrist and family medicine provider at the Rochester Clinic, uses the community garden as an extension of his practice. He said he asks patients about their vegetable intake and what veggies they do and do not like.
“How about cucumbers? ‘Oh, yeah.’ How about tomatoes? ‘Oh, sure.’ OK, go out to the garden and pick,” Lai said. “And then on the way to your tomatoes or cucumbers, anything you feel interested (in), pick them and take them home.”
This practice, Lai said, increases the possibility that they will eat those greens. The other health benefits, Liu said, come from working in the garden itself.
“You put your exercise, a more functional exercise, your labor into something that you get to see the result, not only your body but also what you grow,” Liu said. “And also that helps you develop a sense of purpose, because once you grow something, you always want to (it) check out.”
Mary Furlong, who began volunteering in the garden this spring, recalled the workout she got a few weeks prior when the garden’s caretakers had to fill the four raised beds with soil.
“It makes me feel great. I love being outside, and you do get a workout,” Furlong said. “It feels good to move, to be outside … to just touch plants and dirt, see the progression.”
Rita Luther, an 88-year-old Rochester Clinic patient, volunteered in the garden for the first time that day, planting more spinach seeds in a raised garden bed.
“I like to do things and help people, so that’s why I got involved,” Luther said. “Because it probably feeds people who can’t afford food.”
Several components of the FarmacyRx garden were made possible through donations, Liu said. The wooden bed that houses the mushroom spores was donated by Home Depot, Fleet Farm gave the foundation some of the plants and the raised beds were purchased with an Olmsted County SHIP Community Partner Funding Award.
“We know that not everybody has access to the types of foods that they want to eat,” said Anna Oldenburg, an Olmsted County community health specialist and county coordinator for the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, also known as SHIP. “Oftentimes, food is too far away, so, for example, having a community garden in your neighborhood, you’re now close to the food that you want to eat and you can pick it, harvest it and you can also gain the benefits of the social times in the garden, which is equally important.”
Liu said she will host cooking demonstrations later in the season to show community members how to prepare the produce they can find in the garden.
She hopes the FarmacyRx community garden will also serve as an example for other organizations and businesses.
“This is in a commercial area,” Liu said. “We want to set a model that the business folks can be involved (in) and see how they can be part of a community to contribute. Sometimes the financial or your manpower is the indirect contribution to people who really need things.”