September 07, 2010

Staff Members Dig into Gardening Project, Helping Residents Pick Healthy Food Options

Vel's Purple Oasis Garden yields more than crops.

Staff members in the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods (PRC) program do more than just work together. They take turns tending to a community garden and get together regularly over lunch to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The result is a close-knit bond and an ongoing commitment to helping neighborhood residents learn more about healthy food options.

The staff members grow squash, cantaloupe, zucchini, tomatoes, sweet corn and other fruits and veggies on a plot at Vel’s Purple Oasis Garden. Located in University Circle near Case Western Reserve’s BioEnterprise Building, the garden is the realization of a dream held by Vel Scott and her late husband, Don. Owners of the legendary party center Vel’s, they were longtime residents of the community. They broke ground at the Oasis in early 2008 as a way to get neighborhood residents to spend time together and to promote a healthy lifestyle.

“I lived in the community for many years,” said Scott, whose family has owned the land where the garden is located for more than 20 years. “I enjoy putting something into the ground and watching it grow. When I’m not here planting something I’m soaking up the good energy.”

The crop at Vel's garden starts to come up.

The garden serves residents in the University Circle and Fairfax neighborhoods, as well as East Cleveland.

David Pearl, co-convener of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition and a PRC staff member, said the garden fits in with the center’s mission. “The core project for the research center relates to healthier food options,” said Pearl. The PRC program is part of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

In addition to community members, the garden also has an educational component. For instance, an environmental club from nearby John Hay High School has a garden plot.

The PRC group has had a plot since early June.  Each week, staff members pick fresh vegetables from the garden. They receive guidance from Hank Habermann, the garden’s architectural designer. They also contribute to a weekly office pool for Westside Market runs to supplement their garden bounty.

Katie Rabovsky, a data technician, has turned tomatoes she’s picked from Vel’s Purple Oasis Garden into a zesty salsa dish for her colleagues. However, she said even more important than the food is the camaraderie.

“You get to know people when you get together. It’s nice to take a break for lunch and talk,” Rabovsky said.

The group hopes to plant more crops next season. In addition, staff members will begin bringing food waste to the garden for composting. The materials will come from the BioEdibles Cafe run by Kim's Catering Service in the BioEnterprise Building.

Posted by: David Wilson, September 7, 2010 10:36 AM | News Topics:

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