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Rogers Behavioral Health locations in Oconomowoc and West Allis have been growing some of their own produce to help children and teen patients connect plant growth to their personal changes, reduce food avoidance and keep meals and seasonal treats tasting great. John Williams, director of dining services at Silver Lake Outpatient Center in Oconomowoc, WI, makes a point to include children from the Child Center and Adolescent Center when he grows the produce that will be used in their meals and other dishes at Silver Lake Outpatient Center.
“I believe that if I can get their hands working with food from soil forward, it can help patients with their transitions here at Rogers,” says Williams. “Exposing the kids to the growing process can help reduce their picky eating tendencies, since they’ve been hands-on with the food from its early stages.”
Williams began growing herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, mint, green onions, cilantro and more on the Oconomowoc campus when he joined Rogers in May 2015. He incorporates all of the produce into dishes at the Oconomowoc and Silver Lake locations—including sauces, flatbreads and chicken meals to name a few. He explains that growing your own produce is also a great way to save. “Herbs can cost as much as $8 a pound and growing your own is a way to get that fresh taste for a low cost,” says Williams.
Patients also enjoy the sensory experience of growing their own plants. “We encourage the kids to pick the plants and taste them as they grow,” says Williams. “Some of the kids may have never grown plants before and it’s a wonderful new experience for them and will hopefully create some healthy habits that will carry over into their adulthood.”
For three years, Rogers’ West Allis location has been growing produce such as peppers, tomatoes and strawberries to showcase in their garden show held every June. Patients in Rogers’ West Allis day treatment program for children and partial hospitalization program for adolescents are involved in the entire process from the first planting to enjoying the harvest. “We talk about gardening in general as an excellent coping skill which helps decrease depression,” says Nancy Goranson, PsyD, attending psychologist at Rogers in West Allis. “It’s a positive family activity and helps young people learn responsibility because they have to regularly care for something outside of themselves.”
Dr. Goranson also explains that gardening helps patients learn that by taking small steps, they can achieve large accomplishments. “The commitment needed to water a plant daily, pull weeds, and enjoy the beauty of flowers or delicious food that results from this work helps our patients see that they can take daily steps to meet their program goals.”
The Rogers’ team has hopes to expand the gardening possibilities in the years to come. The dietary services team at Rogers in Brown Deer plans on growing produce with patients for the first time this spring and Williams would like to increase the number of Rogers’ locations that garden. “It’d be great to eventually have tomato plants here in Oconomowoc or gardening space at the Eating Disorder Center in Delafield,” says Williams. “Now that we have the greenhouse in Oconomowoc, it’s going to be exciting to see how the patients grow alongside the produce they care for.”
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