BENNINGTON -- A partnership between the Youth Agricultural Project, also known as YAP, and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has resulted in a thriving vegetable and herb garden located directly on the SVMC campus. The hospital’s food service department will harvest the fresh produce from the garden for use in patient meals at the hospital, its associated nursing home and an on-site daycare.
The garden has more than tripled in size since its creation a year ago, with local farms pitching in through donations of all of the plants and seeds needed for the upcoming summer harvest.
Tiffany Tobin, director of hospitality services at SVMC, described the partnership between hospital and the YAP as a "win-win." Thanks to the garden located steps from the main building of SVMC, she said "we have access to fresh, organic vegetables that benefit everyone from employees to patients to the young children in the daycare. At the same time, SVMC knows that we are helping a successful program, the YAP, continue its work with local at-risk youth."
The Youth Agriculture Program is an initiative run through the Tutorial Center in Bennington. Started in Bennington in 2006, YAP’s main objective according to its website is to "provide at-risk or disengaged youth, ages 16-21, with opportunities for success." While creating and maintaining the four community gardens across Southern Vermont forms the physical basis of the program, the experience excels as a chance to teach team-building and job skills as well.
The garden at SVMC began as a collaboration between the hospital and the YAP last year after receiving a grant from Southern Vermont College and the Bank of Bennington that paid for all needed seeds and plants. This year the garden did not obtain that grant, so its organizers asked local farmers for help. Tobin said local farms responded in "an incredible outpouring of support," donating all of the plants and seeds for the newly expanded garden.
Six Vermont farms contributed everything from peppers to pumpkins: Mighty Food Farm in Pownal, True Love Farm in North Bennington, Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury, Happenchance Farm in Eagle Bridge, N.Y., Two Dog Farm in Danby, and a YAP farm already established at Mount Anthony Union High School.
The abundance of fresh vegetables grown in the garden this year will allow Tobin, and Laura LaCroix, executive chef at SVMC, to bring back successful events started last year such as vegetable education, distribution of recipes, and cooking tutorials for the staff of the hospital, all with vegetables from the SVMC garden. The produce also goes into the daily menu and baked goods at the Putnam Caf=E9, the coffee shop located in the hospital.
Most importantly, the increased size and yield of the garden continues SVMC’s commitment to healthier, and more natural food for its patients.
According to the 2012 seasonal newsletter of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, serving healthy food is not a new concept for the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. About 80 percent of the food served in the 423,575 meals prepared each year is from scratch, including all soups, entrees, and sides. Tobin said that the developments this year in the garden mean that more than ever, "the farmers who supplied the garden, as well the participants in the Youth Agriculture Program, are now part of the healing process."