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Published on November 17, 2017

Eat local. Fresh from the Palmer garden

Staff at Gundersen Palmer Lutheran Hospital and Clinics took this phrase literally in 2016 when they planted a garden at the Hospital.

Palmer garden

"The idea was spearheaded by Dr. [Geralyn] Zuercher. She pointed out that patients, staff and the community could all benefit from the garden," says Jenni Elsbernd, director, Human Resources.

Hospital leaders purchased seeds and starter plants, and a group of employees took on creating the garden space, planting and maintaining the garden.

"We thought, 'if this gets bigger, it could be a lot to take on,'" recalls Jenni. "We reached out to our local 4-H club and asked if they would be interested in taking a leadership role with the garden. They agreed, and here we are."

With the help of the Fayette County 4-H, the garden doubled in size in 2017. "The 4-H kids planned and cultivated the additional garden space and did all the planting," says Jenni. "This year we were able to plant around 10 varieties of produce."

Hospital Dietary staff adopted the garden as part of their work flow and regularly ventured out to check on the plants, pick produce and bring them in for washing. The 4-H group continued to help maintain the garden throughout the summer with a few hospital staff members helping.

"Sometimes my husband and I would weed the garden on weekends," says Jenni.

The harvest was enjoyed by Hospital patients in the form of fresh tomato slices on sandwiches or coleslaw made with cabbage from the garden. Jenny Brehme, manager, Gundersen Palmer Dietary, says hospital food service staff enjoyed the variety as well.

"Dietary staff say it is fun making and trying different recipes and listening for the compliments that came from patients. Patients like the fact that it comes out of a garden close to home."

Farm-to-table was the theme for staff served lunch as well. "We know our staff really enjoyed the fresh produce we served all summer," Jenny proudly states. "One day we were able to serve taco dip with all the toppings coming from our garden."

The daily fresh vegetables were also a good way to promote wellness within the organization and showed the ease of growing your own food. The garden harvests community as well.

"Our goal, strategically as an organization, is to build lasting and meaningful partnerships with other local non-profits," Jenny explains.

"Our collaboration with the 4-H focuses on youth leadership. The kids get a chance to manage the garden, and they have an opportunity to give back to the community. We are proud of this partnership."