Thursday, September 13, 2012

Garden at Brookline Public Health Department is a Growing Experience

The Health Dept. garden on its way.

An idea that was a mere seed last year has blossomed into a full-blown garden outside the Brookline Department of Public Health (BDPH) on Pierce Street.  This spring, staff at BDPH approached Alan Balsam, Director of Health and Human Services, to propose a garden outside their building.  With Alan's enthusiastic support, the staff created space on their property for a vegetable and herb garden.

Watering the newly planted garden.
At street level, the staff constructed a wooden box deep enough to grow lettuce, tomatoes, beans, cabbages, and herbs.  But the bulk of the garden has been an example of successful container vegetable gardening.  Below street level, they poetically repurposed blue recycling bins to use as planters for basil, oregano, other herbs, beets, carrots, and more tomatoes;  radishes are growing nearby.  With rooftop gardens all the rage, BDPH's garden is another step toward increasing the quantity of locally grown food.

Tomatoes from the garden.
According to Lynne Karsten, Director of Community Health, the time was ripe for a Health Department garden.   Anchored by two veteran gardeners, staff members Barbara Westley, Director of Epidemiology/Public Health Nurse and volunteer head of Brookline's Community Gardens at Lars Anderson, and Lloyd Gellineau, Director of Human Services; there was internal interest for a garden at the health department.   Some K-8 schools and the Recreation Department have gardens on their properties, and a garden here ties in with work BDPH is doing on climate change, nutrition, and physical fitness.  In addition, the Department has been promoting eating lower on the food chain.  "It just made sense," says Karsten.  "A garden is fun, educational, and a sets a great example for the community."

Planting at the garden.
Gardening yields multiple benefits and the health department staff has enjoyed all of them.  "It's been interesting and rewarding to watch people learn how to garden," says Westley, since the group's gardening experience ranges from "lots" to "none."  Gellineau indicated that this garden has helped him to appreciate gardening despite mixed feelings about his memories of growing up on a farm.  Dai Nguyen, Chief Health Inspector and home gardener, reported that the garden has been a uniting experience for the department.

But the biggest pay-off is the harvest.  "I picked my lunch!" reported Daniella Wodnicki, Health Inspector, who tweets to her friends about the beans, beets, tomatoes, and basil she has been able to pluck from the garden and eat.  With all its perks, BPHD staff will miss the garden's bounty after the harvest - but, there's always next year!

By Lindsay B. LeClair, Intern, Community Health