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Med students' idea grows into reality

 

When first-year Vanderbilt University School of Medicine students Sabrina Poon and Michael Wolf were volunteering at the Shade Tree Clinic in East Nashville, they noticed how many patients had diabetes and hypertension.

The pair wanted to do something to help residents in the area prevent these illnesses, and a walk around the McFerrin Park community planted the seed of an idea that grew into a garden.

"They are in a significant food desert there (an area where fresh produce is hard to find and afford), so we rallied our class around a project to re-build and expand a community garden," Poon said. "The Salvation Army donated a plot behind their chapel for the garden."

Poon and Wolf were joined by several other first-year medical students, including Benjamin Dean and Shannon Mcconnaughey, to develop the garden. They called the project the Vanderbilt Educational Garden Initiative, or VEGI, launched a blog and sought donations to start planting.

On Saturday, May 2, the students had all they needed to hold a groundbreaking ceremony and community event. The garden is located at 225 Berry Street near the intersection with Meridian Avenue, behind the Salvation Army chapel, just across the street from the Shade Tree Clinic.

"The students canvassed the Nashville garden supply stores to get donations," Poon said.

"Lowe's gave us hundreds of vegetable seedlings: things like peppers, tomatoes, blueberry bushes and flowers. They even gave us seven fruit trees. A local nursery gave us all the soil we needed and we used recycled lumber to build a series of raised beds." According to Wolf, the garden was created with children in mind.

"You show them a tomato and an onion and they don't know where the food is. Food is something that comes pre-packaged in a bag or box. That's fine, but neighbors in this area have a history of poor eating habits, and we hope to teach children and their parents, especially, the benefits of raising and harvesting their own food," Wolf said.

The students also obtained grants from the Vanderbilt chapter of the American Medical Association, and Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Honor Medical Society. The students say Bonnie Miller, M.D., senior associate dean for Health Sciences Education, has been a great help as the faculty adviser on the project.

The students' blog about the garden can be found here.

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