While “take two kale and call me in the morning,” is not exactly the prescription you would receive from a doctor at most health clinics, patients at the New River Valley Community Health Center do indeed receive a prescription to the New River Health District's Farmacy Garden for doctor’s ordered physical activity and an injection of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The garden, encircled by a white picket fence and located directly behind the center, is a collaboration of Virginia Cooperative Extension, the supplemental nutrition assistance programs’ Women, Infants, and Children program, and the New River Health District.
On a recent Thursday evening community members gathered for a potluck at the garden where Extension agents were on hand for cooking and planting demos.
One attendee, Jennifer Linkous, of Christiansburg, came with her children and grandparents.
“The garden gets the kids to try new things they wouldn’t otherwise,” said Linkous.
Her daughter Brittney Linkous, 9, likes the onions at the garden, the smell of the Holy Basil that her family makes tea with, and the leafy beet greens they sauté with garlic.
Another plus for Linkous is the ability to trade volunteer hours for fresh fruits and vegetables. The center serves about 600 WIC participants like Linkous who qualify to use the garden to supplement their grocery list.
“Since I’m a single mom, volunteering helps out a lot,” she said.
There are two ways to become involved with the garden.
Families who qualify for supplemental nutrition assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children program managed by the health department can receive a bag of produce in exchange for performing some light chores in the garden. Those with Farmacy Garden prescriptions from health care providers can also qualify.
Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Kelli Scott uses the garden as an experiential learning classroom.
“The Farmacy Garden is a living laboratory for us to do Extension programming,” said Scott. “Tonight we are working with WIC clients, but I have taught Master Gardeners out here also.”
Scott also uses the eruption of produce and fruit that currently abounds in the garden as a backdrop for her planting demo that is happening tonight.
Family Nutrition Program Extension Agent Meredith Ledlie-Johnson’s cooking demos are another spoke in the collaborative efforts of the garden to treat community health in holistic way.
“I’ve really found access and education go hand-in-hand,” said Leidlie- Johnson. “We’ve seen that just because someone sees something growing doesn’t mean they know how to cook it.”
Nutrition is an important aspect of the outdoor space, but Garden Coordinator Maureen McGonagle also likes to promote the idea that having a space for participants to come and interact with fellow members of the community is significant too.
“I want this space to be known for generating both mental and physical health,” said McGonagle. “This aspect of the garden is hard to measure, and even though we need numbers to track the impact of the Farmacy Garden in the community that we serve, having a space where people can gather and enjoy being outdoors is an important aspect of community building and sustainability also.”
For more information on the Farmacy Garden at the New River Valley Community Health Center visit their Facebook page.
Written by Amy Loeffler.