Green Thumb gardening Helps Menus
THUNDER BAY – HEALTH – Green thumbs are enhancing food services at St. Joseph’s Care Group in Thunder Bay.
Organic vegetables and herbs grown in a co-op garden behind Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital (LPH) will be used in cafeteria and catering fare, served up at St. Joseph’s Hospital and LPH.
The Care Group’s Head Chef Julie Nix is thrilled to have fresh, homegrown produce for her recipes. This year’s crop includes: beets, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, pumpkins, strawberries, green peppers, onions, chives, basil, oregano, and thyme.
“I am passionate about preparing healthy meals using the freshest ingredients,” says Nix, who works for Sodexo’s Nutrition and Food Services, which does all the cooking for St. Joseph’s Care Group (SJCG). “Fresh is better. Fresh is tastier. Fresh is healthier.”
At the end of its fourth growing season, the Green Werks Garden produces organically-grown vegetables and provides employment experience for consumers of mental health services. The goal is to produce more than 2,000 pounds of produce this summer, and to offer at least seven clients meaningful employment and training opportunities, as part of SJCG’s Employment Options program.
Clients are provided work accommodations and support when and where required – based on their individual needs. Once they have gained the necessary confidence, skills and experience, individuals have the opportunity to move onto other employment in the community if they choose.
One of the many other options for clients is membership in Team Werks Co-op which provides ownership opportunities in this social enterprise. The impact on its members has been positive.
It’s given Karl, who has been with the Co-op for more than 15 years, a purpose.
“The supports and skills I obtained gave me the confidence to make my own decisions on what type of work suits me,” he says.
That’s what makes the annual harvest extra special, says Tracy Buckler, SJCG’s President & CEO.
“It’s great that we are going to start incorporating what we grow into our cafeteria and catering menus at St. Joseph’s Care Group,” Buckler says. “But this is about much more than locally-produced food. This therapeutic program creates employment and training opportunities for clients within our Mental Health Services.”
In addition to supplying seasonal vegetables and herbs to SJCG kitchens, a large portion of the harvest is donated to the Regional Food Distribution Association (RFDA). Since the garden’s inception in 2011, Green Werks Garden has donated more than 4,000 pounds of produce to the RFDA, making it a truly collaborative, community initiative.
The Green Werks Garden is also a participant in Project SOIL (Shared Opportunities on Institutional Land), a province-wide feasibility study funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF).
Headed by Dr. Phil Mount from Wilfrid Laurier University and My Sustainable Canada, Project SOIL explores the potential of on-site food production at public health and educational institutions throughout Ontario.
“On-site food production is a simple way to generate revenue and put fresh food in the kitchens,” Mount said. “Our partners also use it as a way to provide therapeutic benefits, provide skills training, education and employment opportunities.”
With the findings of Project SOIL, Mount hopes to shed light on the economic and institutional viability of on-site food production.