A unique program to help sick kids learn about nutrition and gardening is blossoming this summer at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside.
About 70 youngsters, ranging in age from 4 to 18, are growing their own vegetables, herbs and strawberries in raised beds on the hospital grounds. The facility has held cooking classes for four years, but this is the first time patients are actually growing food that’s used in the kitchen.
Hospital officials hope to continue and expand the farm-to-table program, which is now grant-funded. Earlier this year, St. Mary’s received $20,000 from the General Mills Foundation.
Youngsters are growing string beans, tomatoes and peppers, among other things, and are actually using the herbs to make salad dressing this week.
Aromatic rosemary, cilantro and basil sit side by side with lavender, which will be used later this year in aroma therapy classes.
Jessica Schreck, a dietician at St. Mary’s, is running the program and is delighted with the reaction she’s getting from patients and staff.
“They love to water the plants, pick the vegetables and just watch the plants grow,” Schreck said.
The lettuce, spinach and other early crops are being replaced with carrots and later with fall plantings of cabbage and other cool-weather vegetables.
Schreck already has a larger area picked out for expansion next year, so youngsters can grow such things as squash and cucumbers.
Hospital spokeswoman Leslie Johnson said the garden offers rehabilitation as well as recreation for patients. “They learn measurements, memorizations of recipes and it helps with their motor skills.”
In addition, Johnson noted that many of the children are from the city and this is their first introduction to growing produce and seeing where their food comes from.
“Every kid gets something different out of the program,” she said. “We individualize it to meet their needs.”
A recent trip to the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park gave patients a chance to learn about beekeeping and honey. It ended with youngsters making beeswax candles.
The outing was particularly popular with Robert, who enjoyed making the candle and giving it to his mother. “I also like the cooking class,” he said. “I like the guacamole we made and had with tortilla chips.”
Schreck reminded him that whole-grain chips were used to make the snack more nutritious.
Kerchon also went to the farm museum. “I learned a lot about bees and I didn’t know honey came from bees,” he said.
On Monday, Jeneal was busy collecting grape tomatoes from the garden. She loves the fresh strawberries and the smell of the herbs. “I like the mint and other new things,” she said.
Patients who are taking the cooking class have put together a cookbook with their favorite recipes. Two of the newer favorites are broccoli oreganata and watermelon feta salad.
“I would not have thought broccoli would have made the list, but they love it drizzled with oil, herbs and breadcrumbs,” Schreck said.