Community gardening gets a new purpose at the health clinic: Blows

Gardening for health in Petaluma, CA.

Courtesy of Petaluma Health Center


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Courtesy of Petaluma Health Center


Gardening for health in Petaluma, CA.

Courtesy of Petaluma Health Center

It doesn’t look like a doctor’s office, but the grounds in front of the Petaluma Health Center in Sonoma County, Calif., are an important part of the center’s efforts to combat childhood obesity.

A dozen children who are patient at the center help plant, water, weed and harvest kale, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, strawberries and other produce in three raised beds in front community health center. Once harvested, children can eat the fruits and vegetables from their labor, with tips on preparing for the weekly cooking demonstrations.

It’s all part of the Petaluma Loves Active Youth program for the children at the center, 35% of whom are obese. In addition to gardening and cooking demonstrations, weekly meetings at the center also teach healthy eating habits and have a movement component to get kids exercised.

Noting that Latino children are among the most affected by diabetes and obesity, Dr. Fasih Hameed, one of the center’s family physicians, says the program teaches children that “you can reverse this trend”.

The country’s community health centers provide primary care services to 20 million people, mostly low-income and uninsured. People with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level ($44,700 for a family of four in 2011) pay on a sliding scale; those with higher incomes pay the full cost of care. With $2 billion in stimulus funds and $11 billion the centers will receive under the Health Reform Act, community health centers will double the number of people they serve by 2015 .

Because they both serve low-income populations, you might think there is little difference between community health centers and free clinics. But while community health centers charge on a sliding scale (they usually take private insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare), free clinics are usually free.

Individual centers like Petaluma often work to address specific health issues in their communities, such as childhood obesity. “In traditional community health centers, diet and exercise are sometimes pushed to the bottom of the agenda because people are faced with the onslaught of acute problems and chronic illnesses,” says Hameed.

By educating and teaching their youngest patients healthy habits now, Petaluma and other centers hope to head off future problems.