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Planting celebration launches UMMS student-run community garden

Garden provides opportunity to foster nutrition, wellness and community engagement

The weather was perfect for gardening on Monday, July 1, when dozens of UMass Medical School students planted four newly built raised beds with a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers. The launch heralds new growth for nutrition-focused, wellness-oriented initiatives that will be cultivated through the student-run community garden.

“I didn’t realize the importance of healthy food until my dad started a huge garden in our backyard when I was 12,” said Andrew Cauley, SOM ’22, who said his family experienced food insecurity at times during his childhood. “Growing and cooking with fresh vegetables was new and different—and delicious.”

Cauley and fellow second-year School of Medicine students Brennan Dagle and Alexander Schryver are making the community garden their scholarly capstone project, enabling them to continue expanding the garden and developing related educational initiatives throughout their time at UMMS.

“The main goal is to get more students engaged in nutrition as something they should learn about,” said Schryver, a longtime gardener at his family’s home. “More than getting students out and gardening as a healthy habit, the garden ties into our curriculum in terms of talking about nutrition and using food as medicine and promoting healthy lifestyles.”

The garden came together with support from the institution and the wider Worcester community. The Urban Gardening Resources of Worcester program of the Regional Environmental Council has partnered with UMMS to provide ongoing technical support; UGROW provides gardening tools and, starting next growing season, will supply seedlings.

The Growing Green initiative of the Facilities Management Department built the beds and procured established plants. Worcester Department of Public Works donated two truckloads of rich compost. The Office of Community and Government Relations provided healthy snacks and refreshments for the gardeners and students signed on to plant. The Student Government Alliance, representing all three schools, will collaborate to raise awareness of and involvement with the garden.

“I’m primary care driven and want to go into family medicine,” said Dagle, who said his family has also experienced food insecurity. “This school is incredibly supportive of that and responsive to students. I’m happy to have the opportunity to make nutrition a focus.”

Dietitian Barbara Olendzki, RD, MHA, associate professor of population & quantitative health sciences in the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, is serving as the capstone faculty advisor for Cauley, Dagle and Schryver. They discovered a common passion for community gardening during the first-year Doctoring and Clinical Skills course in which Olendzki incorporates nutrition as part of the curriculum.

“The focus is on health, well-being and community engagement, which can help relieve stress and bring people together,” said Olendzki. “Community gardens connect people to where food comes from, and how food can help prevent disease and treat chronic diseases.”

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