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Westfields Hospital sponsors community garden

Jean Needham, Westfields Hospital's community liaison, has spearheaded the creation of a community garden located on the east end of Westfields' campus. The garden is part of a county-wide effort to promote healthful living.

In its latest effort to combat Wisconsin's struggle with obesity, Westfields Hospital has created a community garden to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Located on the east side of the hospital's campus, the garden officially opened on May 25 and will remain available for public use until Oct. 20.

Jean Needham, Westfields' community liaison, said there were two driving forces behind the inception of the garden. The first was the St. Croix County Healthier Together Initiative, a countywide effort to improve nutrition led by Hudson Hospital and the public health department. The second was Westfields' Green Team, a group that promotes natural foods and sustainable lifestyles.

"We felt this was an important thing to do," said Needham, who is one of the Green Team's co-chairs. "Because obesity is an issue in Wisconsin, it's essential that people have access to good food and stay away from processed foods."

In order to use the garden, renters must sign an annual agreement and waiver, pay a $15 fee to cover garden expenses and follow the garden's rules. If renters adhere to the guidelines set by project managers, Westfields will either return $10 of their $15 at the end of the season or carry that amount over to the following season.

Some of the garden's rules include the prohibition of firearms, alcohol and tobacco on site, the gardener's active maintenance of his or her 20-by-20 foot plot, and respectful behavior toward other gardeners. While water is available on site, gardeners are also expected to provide gardening tools, seeds and fertilizer for their plots, which may be planted with both food and flowers.

Although the unusually long winter delayed the preparations for the garden, it has already seen considerable success. Many of the 18 available plots have been purchased, and Needham expects all of them to be spoken for by the end of the week.

Needham attributed part of the garden's successful launch to Hudson Hospital, which has maintained its own community garden for three years and served as a model for Westfields. While project managers will learn how to improve the garden's operation through trial and error, they will also receive first hand feedback from some of the hospital's dietary staff who are planting in the garden.

"The garden will be an opportunity for us to expand the horizons of our staff," Needham said. "We will use their produce in our dining room so that our employees can get fresh food."

The project management team has spent a considerable amount of time preparing the garden, including plowing, tilling and marking the plots. Although the season is just beginning, Needham is optimistic about the garden's future.

"Our goal is to help promote healthier eating and the idea of being out in nature and being active," Needham said. "In some areas, where the gardens are larger, there is also a sense of community that develops. I think, long term, that is what we hope for."