Cancer Survivors Harvesting Healthy Habits at Ohio State’s Garden of Hope

Cancer Survivors Harvesting Healthy Habits at Ohio States Garden of Hope

There are thousands of reasons to join in the fun of helping to harvest the vegetables, fruits and herbs that will sprout in the JamesCare for Life’s Garden of Hope.

We’re not exaggerating.

“We plan to plant 26,000 plants in the garden this summer,” says Amy Barr, the new Garden of Hope Coordinator. That’s a lot of reasons—and a lot of kale, tomatoes, peppers and squash.

The Garden of Hope is free of charge to adult cancer survivors and their caregivers, and you get to keep, take home and eat whatever you pick.

Here are some of the many reasons to work on your green thumb at the garden:

Barr None

Come on down to the farm to meet Amy, who started working at the Garden of Hope in December. Amy spent lots of time on her grandparent’s farms growing up and has an MS in horticulture and crop science from The Ohio State University. So yes, Amy would love to chat with you about crops, irrigation, soil and harvesting. “I’m so excited to bring healthy, local and sustainably-grown food options to cancer patients and their caregivers,” she says.

A Big Bouquet

This year, the Garden of Hope will have flowers. Lots of flowers. “They’ll make the garden a more beautiful and inviting place, and will also help with pollination,” Amy says. “Many of the flowers, such as nasturtiums, are edible.”


Vegetables, fruits and grains are chock full of phytochemicals, which are naturally-occurring chemicals in plants "that may prevent cancer from occurring or from spreading,” says Dena Champion, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, an outpatient clinical oncology dietician at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Phytochemicals stimulate the immune system, block substances that people eat, drink and breath from becoming carcinogens, reduce inflammation that can lead to cancer, prevent DNA damage and slow the growth rate of cancer cells, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research.

Colorful Crops

There will be 32 different vegetables, fruits and herbs in the Garden of Hope this year. "Instead of focusing on just a few vegetables, focus on eating a wide variety because they all contain different phytochemicals, and we suspect that’s more important than trying to focus on any one or two 'perfect' foods,” Dena says. “The goal is to fill your plate—and your harvesting bag—with a rainbow of colors.”

Jim’s Great Gazpacho

There will be cooking demonstrations, lessons and recipes. “Some of our participants may never have eaten or cooked a certain vegetable, like an eggplant,” Dena says. “We’ll offer classes to help everyone learn how to cook all the different vegetables and preserve the nutrients.”

Cooking classes are led by Chef Jim Warner, program director of Nutrition Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “My favorite is his gazpacho,” Dena says of the cold, tomato-based soup Jim loves to prepare. “It’s so fresh and delicious, and we’ll definitely ask him make it.”

Meet our Volunteers

A trip to the Garden is very much a fun, social event, led by our team of dedicated, friendly and knowledgeable volunteers, like Michael Hock. “I love it here early in the morning. It’s cool and it smells wonderful and the wind is blowing and I can look out over this massive field and watch people just light up,” he says. “This brings back a lot of memories for people, and it’s great to share our memories.”

Two for the Price of One

In order to increase the yield, Amy will introduce what she calls “relay planting.” For example, kale is an early-season crop. When its time has come and gone, spaghetti squash will take its place and be ready for harvest by the end of the season. Peas will give way to cucumbers, and potatoes will be replaced by garlic.

Drip, Drip

Amy will introduce a drip irrigation system this year that “will help [garden operators] be more efficient with time and get the right amount of water to the roots of the vegetables.”

Ginger… but no Mary Ann

While ginger is more of a hot-climate crop, Amy has high hopes the herbaceous perennial will flourish in the Garden of Hope. About 15 pounds recently arrived from Hawaii. “We’ll raise them in the greenhouse this year and hope they’re ready for everyone next year,” Amy says.

An Urban Oasis

A trip to the Garden of Hope is kind of a mini-vacation. “When you turn off Lane Ave. and drive back into the farm, you can’t see the road anymore and it’s quiet and beautiful and peaceful,” Dena says. “It’s an escape from all the hustle and bustle, and you forget you’re in a city.”


The Garden of Hope is located on Ohio State’s Waterman Farm and is open from June to October. It’s free for cancer survivors and their caregivers who attend an orientation. The “farmers” can then come once a week at designated days and times to harvest, take home and eat whatever phytochemical-packed produce is ripe.

To find out more about the Garden of Hope and how you can get involved, call JamesCare for Life at 614-293-6428 or email Click here to register for an upcoming orientation.