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Community wellness garden an example of going beyond the basics at health centre

WCHC executiver director Rosslyn Bentley and manager of community programs and services Gebre Berihun. [Leah Gerber]

Besides blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, doctors, nurses, and facemasks at the Woolwich Community Health Centre, this summer you’ll also find green leaves waving in the wind and soft soil holding potatoes, carrots, beans, tomatoes, and herbs, among other produce.

Staff at the Woolwich Community Health Centre are inviting neighbours to come and enjoy and learn at the centre’s recently installed community wellness garden.

The wellness garden has many roles. It promotes healthy living by providing a platform to help anyone learn how to garden, which is proven to help with mental and physical health, and just as importantly, the garden is a focal point to bring people together socially. It provides a chance to mix generations and people from all walks of life to share knowledge.

“This was asked many times – why do you do gardening? Why? You are a community health center,” said Gebre Berihun, the manager of community programs and services at the Woolwich Community Health Centre.

But he says a garden at a health centre is not a stretch at all.

“Community health centres are more than medical centres. People think that (they are) only for doctors, nurses, physical checkups and for medical conditions. (But) we run a range of community programs that support people’s health as well as wellness.”

These community programs include dietitians who educate people one-to-one and in group settings on how to eat for wellness, and how to use Canada’s Food Guide, he said.

The garden brings people together, fights isolation, promotes physical activity and positive mental health.

“So gardening is one way to engage people and show people from the garden into the kitchen, especially vegetables – plant-based eating habits that promote their health.”

This is the second year the garden is running, but due to the pandemic, it is the first year community volunteers are helping. Last year, all the work was done by employees of the health centre rather than involve volunteers, and any demonstration classes were held virtually.

This year, along with welcoming volunteers, WCHC plans to plant flowers and install bee hives with Nith Valley Apiaries.

So far five volunteers are helping regularly, along with one of the centre’s summer students and other staff at the centre. 

“So we pitch in,” said Berihun. “We are not depending on the volunteers who have their own life, their own work.”

“There are a few staff even looking by the windows wondering what the garden looks like,  so everybody takes care of it. The mom with her five-year-old child comes at least two times a week. They come and they email to me: ‘we were at the garden, the garden doesn’t need watering today.’ So it looks like you know, we own it. There are many people, I think, take ownership of it.”

This year more workshops for the community are planned including a cooking class teaching people how to cook and use the food they grow in their gardens.

“This gardening is a demonstration project,” said Berihun. “It is for people to come together to meet other people and make friends and also encourage people to go out and socialize with other people. People can do their own garden, but making and working, mingling, connecting with other people reduces isolation.”

The garden was started last spring with a federal grant. Anyone interested in getting involved is encouraged to call the centre at 519-664-3794 and sign up for a volunteer orientation.

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Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
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