Six gardens on wheels were purchased and rolled out for the program so staff and residents at the Sleepy Eye Care Center could grow fresh, healthy vegetables to eat.

A new project has been "growing" at the Volunteers of America Sleepy Eye Care Center. Residents and staff have started a wellness program that encourages healthy eating, physical activity and enhancing social connections.

Six gardens on wheels were purchased and rolled out for the program so staff and residents could grow fresh, healthy vegetables to eat. These raised gardens on wheels provide easier access to the gardens for residents in wheelchairs and with limited mobility. The gardens have been distributed throughout the facility: two for the long-term care/TCU courtyard, three for the Memory Care courtyard, and one for the staff to use during the summer months. Roughly 75 staff members and 45 residents have partici-pated.

“The reaction has been great,” said Lindsey Beyer, Memory Care Coordinator. “When we first started planting, I had laid the plants out in the boxes where I wanted them to go. I left to go get something and one of my residents with dementia, who was a farmer, got right to work and planted all the plants for me without any direction.”

Since the project began in June, the residents and staff have helped to plant and maintain these mobile gardens. “It has been fun to sit around the raised beds and just reminisce about their gardens and how much work it used to be for them. This Garden Club has made a huge impact on our residents this summer,” added Beyer.

The culinary team at the Sleepy Eye Care Center has also participated by providing education and training regarding proper handling, storage and preparation of the vegetables so the produce retains maximum nutritional value of the foods.

Funding for this garden project comes from the local SHIP partnership (Statewide Health Improvement Partner-ship) a collaboration of Brown, Nicollet, Le Sueur and Waseca Counties, with additional funding from an in-kind contribution from the Sleepy Eye Care Center.

Some of the vegetables growing in the garden are tomatoes, kale, peppers, beets, radishes, carrots and onions.

“Even the staff comment on the plants and some have taken the initiative to water the gardens,” Beyer said, “This (garden project) is something we will do in the summers to come. I have even considered canning in the fall. We’ll see how much produce we get.”

Mary Boyde, Sleepy Eye Care Center Executive Director, also praised the project. “For the residents, it helps get them outside to get air and sunshine,” said Boyde. “Some of them have a history of farming and they take right to it. It’s so fun to see them outside and talking about memories.”

Written by Serra Muscatello for SHIP.