Editor: February is American Heart Month.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Don Tedrow’s heart is full of gratitude.
In January 2015, Tedrow was shopping at a home improvement store when he began feeling “strange, feeling some pressure,” he said.
He went home, and he and his wife headed to the Emergency Department at the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“They kept me overnight, did some tests, and found out I had an 80 percent blockage in my main artery,” Tedrow said.
After a stent was inserted to open the blockage, Tedrow participated in the medical center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.
“That was excellent,” he said. “A life-changer.”
While there, Tedrow learned about the new Ross Heart Hospital Community Garden program, a collaboration between the medical center and Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), which he participated in during the summer.
“It was the perfect follow-up,” Tedrow said, “because I had learned how to exercise in rehab, but I didn’t know what to do with my diet.”
The program, which combines gardening with healthy-living classes, started in 2015. It was the brainchild of Jim Warner, food and nutrition program director with the medical center’s food service administration. Warner also is involved with a similar program with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
Warner approached Elaine Grassbaugh, a research associate with the college’s Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, about starting a cardiac garden. She soon realized that some unused hoop houses behind the department’s Howlett Greenhouses would be a perfect place for raised garden beds. A workroom in the greenhouses could serve as a space for classes.
“The location here is perfect,” Warner said. “You don’t have to pay to park, and you don’t have to navigate the medical center complex.”
Each week during the summer, participants attend a class about healthy cooking and lifestyles and afterward go to the hoop houses to harvest fresh vegetables and learn about gardening.
“They tend to ask a lot of questions,” Grassbaugh said. “A lot of them have never gardened before or even eaten very many vegetables.
“Early in the season, we had Swiss chard, and many had never heard of it. Most of them had no idea what to do with it. We explained that it’s just like spinach, you can eat it raw, you can cook it. We showed them how to harvest it.”
Organizers purchased elevated raised beds for the garden because many cardiac patients shouldn’t bend over after surgery because of vascular conditions, Grassbaugh said. “So this is ideal for them.”
In its first year, the garden had 25 raised beds, and, thanks to donations, organizers were able to add 12 more this year. Among the crops raised are carrots, onions, snow peas, green beans, tomatoes and cucumbers, as well as basil, parsley, cilantro, tarragon, dill, thyme and mint.
“We have all those herbs in the garden to show how you can use them as seasoning agents instead of salt,” Warner said.
Participants are also introduced to cooking methods that are often new to them, he said.
“We show them different methods of cooking vegetables quickly, not in water like you might have learned from your mother, because when you cook them with water, you cook out the lion’s share of water-soluble nutrients,” Warner said.
“For example, we sauté broccoli quickly in a little olive oil, maybe some garlic, throw some herbs on top, and we’re done,” he said. “It takes five minutes. People are really taking to a new method of cooking, a faster method that retains the texture and nutrients of the vegetables.”
Through the winter months, the Ross Garden program meets monthly on second Wednesdays at 6-7 p.m. It starts weekly programs in May.
Last summer, 48 people participated in the program, and another half-dozen have started attending monthly classes so far in 2016. The program is open to Ross Heart Hospital patients and their caregivers, medical center staff, campus-wide volunteers and community participants. There is no charge, but participants must attend the educational class before harvesting in the garden. More information is online at go.osu.edu/RossHeartGarden.
Tedrow said the classes were just what he needed.
“I learned a lot,” he said. “And I feel so much better. I am 63 years old, but I feel better than I did at 50. With the exercise in cardiac rehabilitation, I lost 45 pounds, and this program is the icing on the cake.
“In fact, I’m going to make my own raised beds and grow enough to hand out to people so they can learn to be heart-healthy, too. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”
Warner beams with pride when he talks about the garden program.
“Working with CFAES and especially this program has been one of the high points of my 25 years at the university,” he said. “I think it showcases a unique level of collaboration between colleges, which ultimately benefits our patients and supports the mission of the land-grant university.
“I can think of no better way to fulfill this mission than to use the land to improve health outcomes of the community we serve.”
To donate to the Ross Heart Hospital Community Garden Project Fund (#314885), see go.osu.edu/rossgard.