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Sowing The Seeds of Health

torrance memorial learning garden

Fresh air, exercise and a little bit of nature and healthful food—sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered. And what better place to find all of these things than at the newly planted Torrance Memorial Learning Garden, a community plot in Northwest Torrance where city dwellers can learn to grow veggies and flowers while connecting with their neighbors over compost piles and arugula.

Although the Learning Garden is new, the program started in 2009, when Judith Gerber, editor of Torrance Memorial’s ADVANTAGE newsletter, wanted to start a senior gardening series. She approached Claire Coignard, director of health education at Torrance Memorial, who was enthusiastic about the idea of gardening classes.

At first, Gerber, who has been a Master Gardener for eight years, gave lectures in conference rooms at the Torrance Memorial campus. But as interest grew, it became clear that classroom- only learning wouldn’t suffice. What’s gardening without getting your hands dirty?

There was no space on campus to grow vegetables, but Gerber found just what she needed at the Columbia Park Community Garden in Torrance, which has 125 spaces for locals to use. She secured a spot in April, but it took several months to prepare the garden. “ The plot we are renting was basic-ally abandoned, weedy and a complete mess,” says Gerber.

Gerber’s husband, Dan Hylands, a retired city of Torrance park services supervisor who was involved in the original construction of the Columbia Park Community Garden, volunteered his time and expertise—building a fence, gate, raised beds and a potting bench.

This summer kicked of the first growing season, with volunteers planting tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and yellow squash in four raised beds. The primary focus is on edibles, with the goal of teaching people “how to grow their own food, to improve their health and nutrition and to get some exercise by gardening in the process,” says Gerber.

They also grow companion plants to attract beneficial insects, like butterflies and bees. As with the rest of the community garden, everything is grown organically. The plan is to make their own compost and start most of the plants from seed.

Currently, ADVANTAGE program members (Torrance Memorial’s network of services for people over age 50) primarily use the garden. However, anyone can help with the garden and learn about growing edibles. Lecture classes are held at least once a month and cost $10, while workdays in the garden are free.

“I find that I teach just as much [on work days] because we have real world examples to learn from. And people can come just for lectures, just for work days, or both—whatever they please,” says Gerber.

Almost 250 people have taken classes, learning everything from seed starting and adding color to the garden to container gardening and composting. Looking forward, Gerber imagines a “produce prescription” program, where Torrance Memorial-affiliated doctors can prescribe fresh produce to patients, and they can fill those prescriptions in the garden.

Gardening and freshly picked tomatoes? It might be just what the doctor orders.

The Torrance Memorial Learning Garden is part of the hospital’s Community Benefit Program, which serves the needs of South Bay residents through the donation of services and programs.


You can view the current schedule and register for classes online or call 310-517-4711. For more information about the Torrance Memorial Learning Garden, email judith.gerber@tmmc.com.

Categories: Community,Feature

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