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Maria Prassas pauses from building a fence to keep the rabbits out of her plot in the Hudson Hospital & Clinics' community garden. Prassas, a native of Greece, moved to Hudson in 2011 when she married her husband, John. "I love being here," she said. Photos by Randy Hanson.

Growing healthier through gardening

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Life River Falls,Wisconsin 54022 http://www.hudsonstarobserver.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/0704.A.HSO.garden1.jpg?itok=zHh1b6VD
Hudson Star Observer
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Growing healthier through gardening
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Hudson Hospital & Clinics' community garden is a blooming success.

Now in its third year, all 66 of the plots are being used, according to Jean Weiler, a registered dietician and nutrition manager for the hospital.

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Weiler has been the lead person for the garden since it was established in 2011 on hospital-owned property off Center Drive.

The hospital was interested in starting a garden anyway, Weiler said, but its involvement in the Healthier Together St. Croix County program served as the catalyst for making it happen.

The Healthier Together campaign involves a variety of organizations and agencies working to improve the health of the county's residents.

One of the initiatives was to start community gardens as a way for people to get exercise and eat more nutritious food.

The hospital provided the land and excavation work needed to establish the garden.

The first year, 44 plots were laid out and 38 were used. But interest in the garden grew. In 2012, 55 plots were established and all of them were spoken for. The same happened for the 66 plots offered this year.

About two-thirds of the plots are used by people from the community. Hospital employees are gardening on the remaining one-third of the plots.

Weiler said people who didn't have the opportunity to garden have given it a try and found they like it. "It's wonderful to see that," she added.

A recent survey of the gardeners found that they are a cross-generational group with different levels of gardening experience. They range in age from preschoolers to retirees, and in experience, from none to 60 years.

Vegetable and fruit trim waste from the hospital kitchen is composted in bins located at the garden. This year, compost from 2011 was used to enrich the soil.

Members of the St. Croix Valley Master Gardeners are using plots for plant trials. They have planted different varieties of beans, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, winter squash, basil and sunflowers and will evaluate which varieties fare best.

Excess produce from the garden is taken to the Hudson Christian Food Cupboard, housed at St. Patrick Church.

The hospital's nutrition department has two of the plots and uses the vegetables grown in them in patient meals and the hospital cafeteria.

"That has been a big hit with people. They love knowing where the food comes from," said Weiler.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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