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

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 more than 25,000 plants in the garden this summer,” says Amy Barr, the garden’s 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.”

Phytochemicals

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 for Cancer Research.

Colorful Crops

There will be more than 35 different vegetables, fruits and herbs in the Garden of Hope this year, including new additions like Thai basil, Asian cabbage, garlic, Greek oregano, yams and pak choi. "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,” Champion 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,” Champion 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,” Champion says of the cold, tomato-based soup Jim loves to prepare. “It’s so fresh and delicious, and we’ll definitely ask him to make it.”

HOPE Grows

An extension of the Garden of Hope includes the Hope Labs research gardens led by Colleen Spees, PhD, RD. Produced with a crop-to-clinic-to-community perspective, the research is proving that adult and youth cancer survivors can improve both mental and physical health outcomes by adhering to evidence-based guidelines for cancer prevention and survivorship. This biobehavioral research also provides Ohio State students with service-learning opportunities that can’t be replicated in a traditional classroom setting.

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."

An Urban Oasis

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

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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 jamescareforlife@osumc.edu. If you'd like to participate in an upcoming orientation, register today.