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ECU Health Beaufort Hospital, a campus of ECU Health Medical Center, hosted free community health screenings, produce giveaways and educational information at its first fall harvest event at the new community garden and outdoor classroom on Nov. 18.

The community garden and outdoor classroom, located next to the ECU Health Wellness Center in Washington was made possible — in part — by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the garden was developed by the ECU Health Patient Education team in collaboration with ECU Health Beaufort Hospital. Internal partners include the ECU Health Beaufort Hospital Food & Nutrition Services team, Community Health Improvement team, Volunteer Services, the Wellness Center, and Facilities & Properties.

“It has been wonderful working with such an innovative team,” said Tammy Thompson, director of Experience Engagement, Education and Design at ECU Health. “They have been true partners throughout entire process.”

Sowing the seeds for health and well-being

Over the summer, the garden started to take shape, resulting in 10 raised beds for vegetables, two large metal planters for herbs, fencing, a shed and space for community members to come together and learn outdoors. The hospital planted the first crops in September for the first harvest event.

Pam Shadle, director of Marketing, Community Outreach and Development at ECU Health Beaufort Hospital, said the opportunity to come together as a team and create something that will benefit the community has been a great experience.

“It’s been a labor of love since the creation of the idea,” Shadle said. “So many of our team members from various departments came together to make this happen, so it’s been a great opportunity for our folks to get involved and I really appreciate that.”

Shadle said the community garden and outdoor classroom is an integral addition to their community health improvement plan for Beaufort and Hyde county residents. While they already feel the great impact of existing programs on community health, the garden will help create new opportunities and help improve those established programs, Shadle said.

Beyond the harvest

The ECU Health Food and Nutrition Services team joined the event and shared easy-to-make recipes inspired by the garden’s produce — which includes vegetables and herbs like broccoli, collards, kale, lettuce, rosemary and thyme. Along with the opportunity to take home fresh, free produce, clinical teams were on hand to offer health screenings for community members, and the Wellness Center team shared information about lifestyle medicine and other services to support community wellness.

“It’s just a great complement to include these offerings because what we’re trying to do is not solely about food,” Dr. Thompson said. “We call these living-learning labs because of the interactive engagement to support healthy lifestyles. This is an opportunity for community members to receive a variety of information and resources for better health.”

ECU Health Chief Experience Officer Julie Oehlert, DNP, RN, said the garden is an important step in the community health work in eastern North Carolina.

“We’re so proud of the teams that made this garden a reality,” Dr. Oehlert said. “It’s going to benefit community members, team members and patients in the hospital and I think it’s really special for us to connect with the communities we serve in this way. We’re excited to offer something unique for Washington and Beaufort County and I know we’re going to learn so much from this project.”

Planning your visit

The garden will be open to community members from 9 a.m. to noon each Wednesday and Friday where any produce ready to be harvested will be distributed and other educational materials will be shared.