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DHMC’s new farm aims to bring healthy food to those in need

  • Willing Hands Operations Manager Chris Castles, of Corinth, left, and several volunteers who work at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center spent two hours weeding, mounting potatoes and removing rocks from a new garden on the grounds of the hospital in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, July 3, 2019. One third of an acre was planted with onions, squash, potatoes and peas on May 30 and the food it produces is meant to be donated to food-insecure patients and families. "There's a grand vision of one day having this whole area be fruits and vegetables," said Castles of a two acre piece of land between parking lots on the hospital campus. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bryan Lheureux, of Lebanon, a community health partnership coordinator at DHMC, checks a text message while volunteering to weed the Farmacy, a new garden planted on the hospital grounds in partnership with Willing Hands in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kylen Nelson, of South Royalton, an intern in the Center for Nursing Excellence at DHMC, volunteered to pull weeds in the Willing Hands "Farmacy" garden on the hospital grounds Tuesday, July 3, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 03, 2019

LEBANON — Onions, potatoes, peas, summer squash and zucchini might make regular appearances at the farmers market, but now they also can be found sprouting from the ground at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Through a collaboration with the Norwich-based nonprofit Willing Hands, a quarter-acre portion of undeveloped property between a parking lot and the child care center at DHMC is now being devoted to the cultivation of vegetables for Upper Valley food pantries.

This is the “first step in what we all hope is a bigger project,” said Gabe Zoerheide, Willing Hands’ executive director.

If expansion plans come to fruition, the “Farmacy” garden will grow to approximately 2 acres and include perennials such as raspberries, blueberries and apples. In addition to feeding people through food pantries, officials’ long-term plan is to make food grown on-site available to patients and staff.

The DHMC site is one of two new gardens Willing Hands has undertaken this year with assistance from volunteers. The other is at the nonprofit’s new location off Route 5 in Norwich. A third garden at the nonprofit Cedar Circle Farm in East Thetford has been under cultivation for more than 10 years.

For the hospital, the effort fits in with a broader push to “address nonclinical factors that affect the health of our community,” said Chelsey Canavan, a coordinator with D-H’s population health team.

Approximately 9% of New Hampshire households are considered food-insecure and may not know where their next meal is coming from, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Increasing access to fruits and vegetables for those people is part of D-H’s efforts to address factors that affect people’s health but that don’t traditionally fit into the range of issues treated by clinicians, Canavan said. Others in D-H’s sights include increasing access to affordable housing and transportation, she said.

To identify patients who may be struggling with access to healthy food, Canavan said, clinicians now ask patients if food access is an issue for them. D-H’s pediatric practices have teamed up with the Upper Valley Haven to offer boxes of food to patients who may otherwise go hungry.

As the garden’s name implies, the Farmacy might play a role in patients’ health care by helping to ward off or manage certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, Canavan said. Nutrition can also play a role in helping to address behavioral health issues such as addiction, she said.

The effort is supported at least in part by a $25,000 grant for Willing Hands from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.

The goal in supporting such efforts through the foundation’s Healthy Food Fund is to “have healthier people and healthier communities,” said Henny Mulatre, a foundation program officer.

Aside from providing food for people in need, the effort also offers a convenient volunteer opportunity for D-H employees.

On Tuesday afternoon, amid bright sunshine, a summer breeze, singing birds and an occasional shout from the nearby child care center, eight volunteers hammered fence posts for peas, pulled weeds and moved dirt around the quarter-acre patch that is enclosed in a wire fence to keep out critters such as deer, woodchucks and bears.

The effort got them away from their desks and the fluorescent lights of the hospital and out with both familiar and unfamiliar colleagues.

“It’s a nice day,” volunteer Nicole LaBombard, a member of D-H’s community health team, said as she dragged a hoe between neat rows of potatoes. “It’s fun to get out of the office.”

The organizations will celebrate the new garden with an event there on July 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. The garden is located at DHMC north of Lot 20 and south of the child care center, which sits next to David’s House. Parking is at the child care center, which can be accessed from Loop Road.

More information about volunteering can be found online at willinghands.org/help-us/volunteer.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.