Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh’s Alliance Medical Ministry uses garden to get patients healthy

Carina Saavedra turns the compost at Alliance Medical Ministry’s community garden.
Carina Saavedra turns the compost at Alliance Medical Ministry’s community garden. Sarah Barr

The kale plants in the garden at Alliance Medical Ministry are just starting to peek over the edges of their raised wooden beds, a sure sign that spring is here.

For Alliance, the stirrings in the garden mean the chance to tie many of their wellness programs for patients to the healthy foods a few dozen feet outside their door.

Alliance provides working, uninsured adults in Wake County with services including doctor visits, lab testing, chronic disease education, and counseling from their location just off New Bern Avenue.

The group started the garden in 2009 to have another resource to draw upon in their efforts to improve patients’ health.

Earlier this month, the Voices into Action initiative awarded Alliance a 2014 Southeast Raleigh mini-grant to help expand its garden.

The mini-grants, which went to 10 local organizations, are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and aim to expand access to healthy, affordable food and safe places to be active in Southeast.

The Alliance grant will help fund items such as irrigation hoses, signs, food and cooking supplies and a rain barrel.

Patients who come to a monthly diabetes education class can head into the garden to get exercise and leave with a bag full of fresh, healthy food.

Others who participate in a six-week class that teaches cooking and smart grocery shopping skills have one more source of healthy food.

And physicians at the clinic are able to urge a patient to take a bag of veggies on their way out the door.

“The garden is really central to all of these things,” said Carina Saavedra, an AmeriCorps member who works as the wellness program and community garden coordinator.

Saavedra said that Alliance always is on the lookout for ways to make sure patients have access to food and that what they do eat is healthy — all to help head off problems down the road or control chronic conditions.

The typical patient at Alliance is a woman who has three people in her household and lives about $19,907 each year. Overall, about 77 percent of patients have at least one chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

When parents can count on picking up healthy food or learning some tips for shopping, those are lessons they pass on.

“The children are learning from the adults,” said Elizabeth Daniel, director of community outreach at Alliance.

The diabetes program has brought out not just adults who head into the garden to work but also their children who tag along for the day.

And other nearby organizations also are finding ways for youth to be involved in gardening, including mini-grant recipient Poe Center, where officials plans to create a hands-on learning garden.