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CRI Healthy Garden

Twenty percent of Americans report feeling extreme stress (ranking an 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale), which can lead to physical and emotional symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, and poor eating habits.1 To combat these negative health effects, studies show that open, outdoor spaces such as gardens are effective aids for stress management.2 Canyon Ranch Institute is working locally with its partners to create open spaces to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

BACKGROUND

Effective stress management is critical for maintaining overall health and wellness. When left unmanaged, persistent stress can result in an array of negative health outcomes.

The CRI Healthy Garden program is helping to build healthy communities by creating contemplative, outdoor gardens where community members can enjoy nature, escape daily stressors, and develop a sense of calm to bring into their lives.

The CRI Healthy Garden program is designed to enable participants to interact with nature to manage stress by experiencing a program and activities in a garden environment. The goal is to make the CRI Healthy Garden model available to all communities, adapted for local climate and available space. Curriculum may include sessions that cover the science of stress and the negative impact it can have on our minds and bodies; contemplative garden design; gardening techniques; food gardening; flower gardening; meditation techniques; and relaxation exercises.

How We’re Making a Difference

CRI Healthy Garden is bringing open spaces and cooperative organic gardening to urban settings in Savannah, GA, in the South Bronx, NY, and at two sites in Tucson, AZ.

Savannah’s CRI Healthy Garden, located on the grounds of the historic Trustees’ Garden, is thriving through the support of Savannah civic leaders Charles H. and Rosalie Morris and an all-volunteer effort. In May 2014, more than 60 community members helped to create raised garden beds, and filled them with soil, seeds, and seedlings that have produced eggplant, tomato, squash, bean plants, herbs, and beautiful flowers. Guided by CRI, the volunteer gardeners include a range of ages and occupations, including physicians and their patients, master gardeners, and first-time gardeners. Planning is currently underway with input from the community to expand the gardens and include space for meditation and other features. Focus group and individual interviews are underway with Savannah residents to help design the CRI Healthy Garden at Trustees’ Garden.

In the South Bronx, NY, with CRI partner Urban Health Plan (UHP), plans are in development to adapt a 3,500-square-foot space on the roof of the five-story Urban Health Plan building. Extensive formative research was conducted by CRI and UHP with South Bronx community residents to understand community members’ priorities, and benefit from their input to inform the design and features of the garden space.

At Apollo Middle School in Tucson, AZ, students, family members, teachers, staff, and community volunteers plant, harvest, and enjoy vegetables and herbs. This garden is one of only 22 school gardens in the state certified by the Arizona Department of Health Services. This allows its produce to be used on-site in Apollo’s school cafeteria and in the Apollo Healthy Kitchen, where students learn to cook. Since the garden was planted by students and community members in September 2014, hundreds of pounds of produce have been donated to non-profit organizations working to end hunger in Tucson.

At Canyon Ranch in Tucson, AZ, the CRI Healthy Garden is adjacent to the Demonstration Kitchen, a popular feature among guests for its daily Lunch ‘N Learn and Hands-On Cooking sessions. Chefs incorporate fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden into their healthy cooking and offer recipes for at-home preparation.  Garden produce is also donated to local non-profit organizations.

Evaluation

A primary evaluation technique for participants involved with CRI Healthy Garden involves monitoring selected biomarkers associated with high stress. As data become available from this program, Canyon Ranch Institute will share that outcome data via scholarly publications, presentations, and here on our website.

¹ American Psychological Association. Stress in America™: Missing the Health Care Connection. 7 February 2013.

² Pleasant, Andrew, Scanlon, Molly, and Pereira-Leon, Maura. “Literature review: Environmental design and research on the human health effects of open spaces in urban areas.” Human Ecology Review 20.1 (2013): 36-49. Society for Human Ecology.