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New indoor garden installed at Boston campus

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:02

 The Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University (USDA HNRCA), in collaboration with the Massachusetts’ Horticultural Society, installed a new indoor garden on the Boston/Chinatown campus.

Research conducted at the center analyzes the relationship between nutrition, physical activity and aging, according to John Heine, assistant to the USDA HNRCA director.

“We want to help people realize how easy it is to grow healthy and nutritional food without outdoor space,” Heine said. “We are using the garden as an educational tool to inform people about the health benefits of whole-grown fruits and vegetables.”

The garden expands the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Garden to Table program, which provides hands-on education and support to people wanting to learn more about nutrition and gardening, Heine said.

According to Heine, the garden has three elevated beds filled with soil and fertilizer. It’s outfitted with grow lights and a drainage system, in addition to user-friendly signs developed by USDA HNRCA nutrition scientists that explain the nutrient content of the plants being grown at the time.

“Crops are rotated, so we have something that is growing and ready for harvest every three to four weeks,” Heine said. “We plan to change the types of vegetables we grow every few months for variety.”

Radishes, beets, turnips, Vietnamese mint, tatsoi and kale are among the plants currently growing in the garden, which is fully funded by the USDA HNRCA, Heine explained. 

“It’s meant to be a kind of community outreach initiative to engage the public,” he said. “We seek to translate our science into more accessible terms.”

The USDA HNRCA and the Massachusetts Horticultural Society had a relationship prior to the garden’s creation through the “Talk and Taste” lecture series, according to Lisa Kamer, the Garden to Table program coordinator for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

“We have four lectures that each focus on a different nutritious food,” Kamer said. “We bring in lecturers and gardeners to discuss this with the greater community. Our goal is to promote healthy eating habits and raise awareness about the nutritional benefits of gardening through the excitement of cooking.” 

Kamer said she is excited about the partnership between the USDA HNRCA and the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The program donated almost 4,000 pounds of produce to two food pantries in 2013. 

According to Kamer, the indoor garden at USDA HNRCA will donate all of the harvest to St. Francis House, a daytime shelter in Chinatown that serves as many as 700 meals a day. 

Manager of Food Services at St. Francis House Leslie Oliver said she is excited about the donated produce. 

“Our mission is to provide healthy food,” Oliver said. “The vegetables will make for higher-quality meals and encourage healthy eating habits. They will give our guests fresher flavors.” 

According to Oliver, the quantity of vegetables is not large enough to make a full meal, but they will be added to soups and salads. The shelter has received three donations so far, she said.

“This is a new development for us,” Oliver said. “We were just called by City FARM, [which is] run through MIT. If you get enough of those [donations] in the city, we will eventually be able to make a full meal.”

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