Harvesting fruits, vegetables and herbs at the peak of freshness is a recipe for good taste, but it also offers higher nutritional value, which is important to patients and staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Springing from the ground like a new sapling, the idea to start a garden at St. Jude quickly germinated and has continued to grow each season.
“Mary Schuchaskie [manager of the hospital’s cafeteria, the Kay Kafe] and I shared a vision of having a garden that we could go to daily for produce and herbs,” says Executive Chef Miles McMath. “It started out as a small herb garden and grew from there with the help and support of fellow hospital employees.”
In early 2010, the St. Jude Garden began to flourish. Organizers obtained lumber, built and painted planter boxes and gathered such items as seeds, a tiller, a weed eater and hoses. The project currently encompasses 59 raised beds, a greenhouse and hoop houses for growing lettuce and tomatoes all year. The garden’s volunteers—many of whom are hospital employees—plant, mulch, weed, water and harvest crops seven days a week.
“Offering weekend and night options inspired employees to volunteer and got them excited about playing a role in this garden,” Schuchaskie says.
Having a garden on site shortens the time between harvesting and serving, which keeps the food’s nutritional value high and provides healthier fare for faculty, staff and patients who eat in the Kay Kafe. Serving foods from the St. Jude Garden also reduces the need to purchase large amounts of produce, which saves the hospital money.
“The fresher the produce, the better the taste,” McMath says. “But it was also important to me to show a cost savings for St. Jude. By the end of each season, I want to show that this really has given us better produce and has saved the hospital money.”
The St. Jude Garden provides a continuous supply of fresh vegetables year round.
“We focus on vegetables that we know how to take care of, that grow well in this climate, that we use most often in the Kay Kafe,” Schuchaskie says. “As the seasons and needs change, the garden changes with it.”
St. Jude is also composting fruit and vegetable trimmings from the kitchen to feed worms that will enrich the soil for future plantings.
“This garden means so much to our staff and patients because the idea was born here. It was and continues to be a grassroots effort that has been immeasurable,” McMath says. “This is also a relationship-building opportunity for the community. It not only provides a chance for people to volunteer their time, but it brings together individuals who have donated items as small as gloves, shovels and even compost. They all feel a part of this garden.”