I could not have scripted it better myself. The first stop of my very first rural Arizona roadtrip featured a brunch consisting of freshly picked produce in a community garden. How lucky was I? I was traveling with two individuals who are long-time associates/staff members of the Center for Rural Health, Jill Guernsey de Zapien , the Associate Dean for Community Programs and Maia Ingram, Program Director, Community Based Evaluation Projects. Jill and Maia were great guides as we spent a full day traveling around Cochise County.
Back to our first stop, the Elfrida Community Garden. The garden is located directly behind the community health care center in that community on land belonging to the center. We were warmly greeted by Anita Wood, a PhD-trained anthropologist who oversees the community garden. She told us about the humble beginnings of the community health care center (it was started in a small metal shed) and how over time it has grown. In addition to providing traditional health care services, the center now offers yoga classes and was getting ready to offer its first Zumba class. Residents of Elfrida look out!
Developing a community garden is clearly another innovative and non-traditional approach to holistic healthcare. In addition to growing healthy produce which is sold to both staff and residents at the garden and at farmers’ markets, part of the concept of the garden included having a place where residents could meet socially and, if so inclined, could grow their own produce on their own plot of the garden. While uptake on the later concept has admittedly been slow, the garden has clearly succeeded in the other areas.
One of the biggest unintended positive effects of the garden is how it helped convince one pediatrician to move to Cochise County, according to the CEO of the Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Dr Jennifer “Ginger” Ryan. We met with her later in the day (it will be the focus of an upcoming blog entry) and she told us that when a pediatrician from Cornell University heard about the community garden, he was so impressed that a community health center would do something like this for the community that it played a large role in his decision to move to Douglas. Now, several years later, there are 6 pediatricians in Douglas and a brand new pediatric facility.
So, if you are ever in Cochise County, Arizona, make sure the Elfrida Community Garden is part of your schedule!