University of Kansas Medical Center Botanic Gardens THRIVE

By Caroline Bloomfield | July 18, 2022
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by Caroline Bloomfield
July 18, 2022

Thinking about school gardens, we might imagine children digging, learning and planting. However, the students at “KUMC” (Kansas University Medical Center) are not necessarily that young and they aren’t your average kid gardeners. Most are graduate level students studying to be doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and other health professionals. 

Gardener Sarah Norris, M.C.A.M., with her Master’s Degree in Complementary Alternative Medicine, is a perfect fit for these gardens designed for future health care workers who may be experiencing food insecurity as students.  With a long wish list for the future of the university’s gardens, Sarah is well aware of the health benefits of gardening, particularly for those living a high stress lifestyle.  “The overarching theme of the KUMC Botanic Gardens is the connection gardens have to medicine and our health.”

THRIVE Student Food Pantry Program

This college campus is located in the urban core of Kansas City. The university’s botanical gardens originated in 2015, and in 2020 the university opened a food pantry to support food-insecure students. Produce grown in the gardens all goes entirely to the school’s food pantry where students can pick up fresh, free food on Thursday afternoons.

The flowers and fresh vegetables growing in six gardens on this campus make it a haven in an otherwise concrete jungle. This is a community garden for the school’s student body where they can experience the cycles of gardening and get their fingers in the soil as a welcome relief from the intensity of their studies.

The vegetable gardens dedicate their harvest to the university’s food pantry program. In 2020, its very first year, the gardens yielded 1300 pounds of produce. In 2021, they provided 1800 pounds.  That’s an incredible record for a young project.

Botanical Gardens 

When these beautiful gardens are in bloom, they are open to the community by appointment.  Anyone can visit, but a guided tour is a highlight.  Of the six vegetable gardens on campus, four are demonstration gardens, contained in steel cattle troughs in front of the main entrance and exit of the school. 

Each year the gardens have a theme, and this year they’re all about bees and how they contribute to our health. In March, the campus got new hives and received 70,000 new bees.

Looking to the Future

The university’s garden program, like so many other organizations, had a slight setback during the COVID shutdown periods, but Sarah is hoping for increased community outreach as the pandemic subsides.  The gardens have acted as a center for community outreach within this urban core district. The program grows little by little, and the outreach may someday extend as far as the hospital. In addition, Sarah is looking at how to grow the program’s educational component through workshops and training. 

Although there are herbs growing all over the campus, Sarah is hoping for a dedicated herb garden. Wooden raised beds have been installed in association with Dietetic Department, and Sarah is hoping this might be the spot.

Hopefully this student/community garden will serve as an example for other higher education institutions. The respite of gardening makes it a perfect activity for university level students who are often under a high degree of stress. This year there were 60 students helping with the program. Sarah Norris has high hopes for the future of the THRIVE program and is gratified to be helping future medical professionals realize the benefits of gardening. We appreciate knowing these young doctors, nurses and health professionals will have this experience, and hope the idea will start trending soon.

Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.

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