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From the Ground Up: Dental School Starts "Help Yourself Garden"

It’s more than a food garden.  It’s also a place for staff, faculty, students and even patients to relax, talk and build camaraderie.  And it has become an idea incubator fostering discussions on ways the food that is grown can be used to enhance oral health.

Since May 2014, a group of about a dozen staff, students and faculty from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry has been cultivating a Help Yourself Garden next to the upper level of the Fletcher Street parking structure.  The garden, 61 feet long and 3 feet wide, is behind a 2-1/2-foot high retaining wall on the south side of the Power Center.

“It’s a perfect location,” says Emily Springfield, whose official title is academic project manager, but, unofficially has become known as the School’s “gardener in chief.”

A gardener for about 15 years, Springfield says she regularly walked by the wall and thought “we could do more with that site.”  She approached University and Power Center officials with her idea for a food garden and received approval to transform her ideas into reality.

“It’s an ideal site for a food garden,” she says.  “It faces south, so it gets a lot of sun.  It’s well irrigated and close to the School for staff, faculty, students and patients, if they’re so inclined, to take a break, work on the garden during their lunch hour, and talk about something everyone is interested in – food,” she adds with a smile. 


Foods Grouped by Continents

The foods that have been planted are grouped by continents. 

Foods in the North American section feature multicolor corn, pinto beans, winter squash and red sunflowers. 

South American foods include red cherry tomatoes, tomatillos, sweet and hot peppers and potatoes. 

The European section includes cucumbers, green beans, fennel, kale and turnips. 

Among the foods in the African section are crowder peas (pigeon peas), peanuts, collards and okra.  In the Asian section are red noodle beans, Thai hot peppers, bitter gourds and mixed mustard greens. 

“The core group of people involved with the garden thought including some of the most visually interesting foods, such as red okra or purple cabbage, would be a different way to draw interest from those who walk by,” Springfield says.


Help Yourself!

Springfield says the foods in the garden often lead to discussions among faculty, staff and students about foods that dental patients can use to enhance oral health. 

“There is some overlap between dentistry and gardening, especially when it comes to nutritional counseling,” she says.  “One of our dental students even told me that after she graduates that she would like to have a garden at her office that her staff and patients might be able to use.”

Faculty, staff, students and patients who come to the dental school for oral health care are invited to help themselves to foods that are of interest to them. 

While there is no cost to take any of the foods from the garden, Springfield says “our only request is that people not waste food and, of course, wash the food before eating.”  Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to pick up foods and use them for dishes they plan to make for the School’s Taste of Culture potluck on September 30.


Other Campus Units Interested

Springfield says other units on campus are interested in the School’s Help Yourself Garden including the Medical School, the School of Public Health, and the Program in the Environment, a University-wide collaboration overseen by the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts and the School of Natural Resources and the Environment.


Story posted September 09, 2014