Garden tapped for study

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July 1, 2010 - 12:00 AM

If Carolyn McLean has her way, Iola’s Elm Creek Community Garden will be in every traveler’s eye.
“I’d love a sign along the highway directing people to us,” she said.
Why the proposed hullabaloo? Elm Creek once again has found the spotlight, this time in the form of a research project/grant through the Shiefelbusch Lifespan Institute of the University of Kansas.
“They selected us as the prototype community garden for the state of Kansas,” McLean said of the organization, which is pursuing “the establishment or expansion of five community gardens across the state,” she said.
“They want people who want to start community gardens to come and see us because they believe we’ve done everything right,” McLean said proudly.
McLean said researchers Sarah Sack and Patty Moore discovered Elm Creek through a link on the American Community Garden Association website. Elm Creek is a member of the group.
“So they came down and met us and were blown away by the garden,” she noted.
“After they visited a couple of times and asked us to participate (in their research project) they asked us ‘What can we do to help?’”
“We told them, ‘We need shelter,’” McLean said.
The group has offered ECCG a grant to build two picnic shelters, purchase two light-weight Mantis tillers for gardeners’ use, and purchase a four-wheeled wheelbarrow that is easier to handle for those with mobility or strength issues, McLean said.
“Most grants don’t pay for bricks and mortar,” she noted.
For their part, Elm Creek gardeners were asked to participate in a survey about gardening, physical health and socialization habits.
“Questions included how many people a day do you talk with, how often do you interact with people of a different background, how much gardening knowledge you had, and about any physical disabilities or health conditions,” McLean said.
The institute wants to learn if gardening helps people live longer, McLean noted. It’s studying mental health and whether an individual’s stress level is reduced through gardening, and if gardening helps increase socialization opportunities for those who, like seniors or the disabled, might otherwise live a more isolated life.
Gardeners at Elm Creek were happy to assist.
The Institute sought 30 survey participants, McLean noted; 43 responded. “We just sent the surveys in Monday,” she said. A follow-up survey will be conducted in August to learn if the gardens had nutritional impacts on the target population.
Sack noted the study is funded through the United States Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, which seeks employment opportunities for “persons with health conditions and disabilities.”
Because the study also focused on recreational opportunities, gardening was a natural fit, Sack said.
Gardeners can sell their produce to grocery stores or at farmers markets, Sack said, meeting the employment objective. Socialization through a community garden setting meets the recreation side of the study, she noted.
“We wanted both community gardens that were fully established and those just starting,” for the study, Sack said. Also included in the study are an established garden in Hutchinson, a one-year old garden in Wichita, and brand new gardens in Parsons and Fort Riley.
The Fort Riley garden is for returning veterans, Sack said. “It’s for wounded warriors,” she noted.
In Parsons, “we have 14-year-olds who come out, whose families don’t garden, but they want to,” she said. “We have people in wheelchairs.
“We learned a lot from the other gardens, including Elm Creek,” she said of the newly established 189-plot Parsons garden.
All together, Sack said, “our goal was 150 gardeners across the state,” for the study. “We have 370 registered gardeners with health or disability issues,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

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