Restoring Homestead Hospital’s Grow2Heal Garden After Irma

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September 28, 2017

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Two weeks after Hurricane Irma blew through South Florida, most work and school schedules are back on track. But in Homestead, located in the southernmost part of Miami-Dade County, there are some agricultural-based places of business that are experiencing a slower restart. During this time of seasonal transitions, some like Thi Squire, community garden manager of the Grow2Heal garden at Homestead Hospital, find themselves doing cleanup instead of preparing the farm for the fall season.

Rainwater from Hurricane Irma flooded the Grow2Heal garden, an organic – and sustainable – garden located on hospital-owned land adjacent to Homestead Hospital. The farm land and floors of its pavilion and storage shed were covered with about two feet of water, Ms. Squire said. Farm materials and tables floated away from the pavilion into the field. The greenhouse awning ripped, but the structure was left standing. Fortunately, most of the summer crops had been harvested, but all the flowers and other greenery were lost, she added.

“There are some black-eyed peas left, but we lost half of the crop,” said Ms. Squire. “I took some vegetable starts to my house before the storm and have those, but I’m not sure what I’ll actually have to harvest.”

The garden’s fruits, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees and native flowers are harvested to provide better health and wellness choices for the hospital’s patients, visitors, employees and local organizations in need. Ms. Squire, who relies on volunteers from the community to help harvest crops year round, faced a big challenge cleaning up and restoring the farm. Like many others who experienced the storm, she took photos of the damage. When Ms. Squire shared a picture of the flooded land on social media, she received an offer of help from employees who work in the corporate wellness department at Baptist Health.

Restoring Homestead Hospital’s Grow 2 Heal Garden

“When we found out that the Grow2Heal Garden was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, we knew we had to help in some way,” said Henry Guzman, director of wellness strategies at Baptist Health. “We gathered our team and came out to clean up the debris and fix up the initial damage the storm caused. The garden represents in many ways what our mission is – to have the healthiest workforce in America. Food straight from our organic garden doesn’t get any fresher or more nutritious.”

Mr. Guzman and his colleagues spent a day hard at work helping to restore the garden. Temporarily stepping away from counseling employees about wellness and working on healthy workforce initiatives meant clearing debris, collecting materials that floated away and putting up a fence that blew over.

“The Grow2Heal Garden is an important branch of the food philosophy at Baptist Health,” said Natalie Castro, chief wellness dietitian for corporate wellness at Baptist Health South Florida. “We strive to provide a supportive food environment for our patients, visitors and employees to practice healthier lifestyle habits.”

The damaged garden means the planting of fall crops will be delayed about one month, according to Ms. Squire. When the soil is ready, seeds will be planted for a number of crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, Swiss chard, green beans, carrots and radishes. Once all the debris is cleared, the next steps are to clear weeds, put soil in and start setting trays and putting them into the garden beds.

There’s also a bee hive located on the garden property, used to harvest honey. Unsure it would survive the storm, Ms. Squire fastened down the hive the best she could with concrete blocks and ties. She was pleasantly surprised to find the hive intact after the storm. Her next challenge was feeding the thousands of bees that reside inside it.

“I’ve had to resort to emergency feedings of sugar water since they usually eat nectar from the flowering fruit and vegetables as well as wild flowers that are no longer here,” Ms. Squire said. “Part of my hurricane preparation was to buy sugar because I knew the bees might not survive.”

If you’d like to help with Grow 2 Heal garden restoration efforts, please send an email with your name and contact information.

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