GREENFIELD — Right now, it’s a vacant lot across the street from Hancock Regional Hospital.

But for leaders of a movement to encourage the community to be healthier, it’s a vision of change to come.

Organizers of Healthy365, an effort to improve the health and wellbeing of county residents, plan a community garden for 1.5 acres of land owned by the hospital, with fundraising and preliminary plans beginning this fall and hopes to be tilling the ground and planting the first seeds by spring.

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Healthy365 leaders have big plans for the fruits and vegetables grown in the garden as well: They aim to host events teaching community members meal preparation and canning techniques with some of the produce, while other portions will support local soup kitchens and food pantries, officials said.

While the project is in the early planning stages, hospital healthy community manager Amanda Everidge envisions the urban garden as a way for Healthy365 to help the community understand how to use fresh food to positively impact their lives.

Members of the coalition recently brainstormed ideas for the garden at the Healthy365 annual meeting, including ways to make it easier and more fun for families to get healthy — starting with how they eat.

“Food is a staple in the social aspect of communities,” Everidge said.

The plans for a community garden come on the heels of several Healthy365 efforts to get more fresh food into the cabinets of local residents. The group teamed up this summer with Brandywine Creek Farms, a nonprofit farm, to create Healthy Harvest, a mobile farmer’s market delivering low-cost fresh produce to sites around the county. Healthy Harvest sites were chosen in part for their location in places that don’t have convenient access to grocery stores, officials said. A voucher system allows people in need to receive a week’s worth of produce for $1.

The mobile farmer’s market had Healthy365 leaders and hospital officials thinking about what other projects improving the community’s access to nutrition could be created.

That empty lot in the 800 block of North State State, the former site of a house used as a Women Infants and Children office, has bothered hospital CEO Steve Long for much of his three-year tenure at the hospital. He just knew there was something better the hospital could do with that acreage, and when he mentioned it to Everidge, she took the idea to the Healthy365 committees.

Five teams were formed to tackle different aspects of community health, which include mental fitness, workplace wellness and making healthier choices available.

Deby Low, leader of the workplace wellness team, plans to work to involve local businesses in the care of the community garden, she said.

She envisions a program similar to Indiana’s Adopt-a-Highway program, which encourages clubs and workplaces to become responsible for the trash pickup along stretches of Hoosier roadways. Except in the community garden’s case, employer groups or clubs will be responsible for the planting, weeding and harvesting of produce in a selected patch of ground, Low said.

Low looks forward to being able to provide homegrown food to people who need it, she said.

“I think it’s a win-win situation,” she said. “I think it’s a positive thing for our entire community.”

Wayne Addison, chief probation officer at the Hancock County Probation Department, serves on the mental fitness committee of Healthy365. He hopes to use the garden for community service opportunities. It could give purpose to low-level offenders serving time at the county jail to weed and water the garden, he said.

“I always like to try to do things that give people a purpose,” Addison said. “If they can work with others or learn some trades, it gives everybody a benefit as far as I’m concerned.”

It’s not unheard of for hospitals to get involved in gardening efforts to benefit the communities they serve, Long said. He recently visited a 5,000-square-foot rooftop garden atop the Eskenazi Health Outpatient Care Center in Indianapolis, where he was intrigued by the connections being drawn between food and health.

“We understand that what you eat often has a much bigger impact on your health status than anything else,” Long said. “Putting a community garden on this acre and a half of very visible land would be a really interesting statement about the idea of food as medicine.”

Healthy365 projects

Healthy365, an effort by Hancock Regional Hospital and members of the community to encourage county residents to improve their health, has created several projects in the last year aimed at improving the community’s overall health. These include:

  • Right Weigh, a city-wide weight loss contest,
  • Healthy Harvest, a mobile low-cost and free produce delivered to communities without nearby grocery stores,
  • Hancock Health Congregational Network, which establishes liaisons between churches and Hancock Health, and
  • a ranking of the most at-risk patients and a focus on tactics to keep them from getting sick enough to need a hospital visit.

For more information, visit behealthy365.org.

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.