Ten years ago, a thriving two-acre urban farm replaced a paved parking lot at Bee Street and President Street. Now, despite hurricanes, frequent flooding and a recent pandemic, the Urban Farm at the Medical University of South Carolina continues to thrive.
Noni Langford, who has been on and off Urban Farm since its debut in 2012, was recently promoted to co-manager and works alongside Robin Smith. The two maintain the property, and Langford offers horticultural therapy, a form of therapy that engages patients in gardening and plant-based activities. The process of harvesting and tending to various flowers, fruits, and vegetables can help patients focus their attention elsewhere and provide a sense of control through repetitive movements such as digging.
The farm provides opportunities and benefits for the surrounding communities and the hospital’s patients through various workshops, volunteerism, funding, horticultural therapy, outreach and events, Langdon said.
The garden currently grows more than 65 varieties of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs used for nutritional and sensory therapies. The raised beds are used to grow and harvest foods such as chives, okra, mint, basil and more. Herbs like lavender can be used for sensory therapy, according to Langford; It is soft to the touch and is a gentle stimulator for those prone to overstimulation. Although the garden specializes in plants native to the Southeast, such as cabbage or okra, Langford said they are open to planting other non-native fruits for the inclusion of students and volunteers. For example, one patient requested that bitter melon, a fruit popular in Asia, be planted as a reminder of home.
The farm’s ultimate mission is to “help people make that connection between their own health and healthy eating,” Langford said. “We’re also here to offer people a quiet space where they can be outside and connect with nature in a controlled environment.”
People can volunteer for the farm. Every Thursday at 9am there are meetings at the farm where volunteers do everything from weeding to planting and harvesting. Langdon said volunteers have first choice at a harvest. MUSC Urban Farm staff try not to produce waste by providing food to volunteers or working with nonprofits like Slow Foods Charleston and outreach advocates like Ragina Scott-Saunders who help distribute additional produce to people who are live in food insecure households.
Accessibility of the garden is extremely important, Langford said. Brick paths and patios have been added between the garden beds for easier access. “We are constantly looking at different ways to make the campus and this urban farm even more accessible than the minimum ADA requirements require,” said Langford. “We want to make ourselves really comfortable.”
People in wheelchairs usually can’t comfortably tend to a raised bed, she added. To solve this problem, the farm team installed raised beds with space for wheelchair users while tending the garden.
Horticultural therapy is an important and personal mission of hers to the patients at the hospital. “It relates to my sons,” she said. Horticultural Therapy is a growing program at MUSC and has even expanded to the rooftop garden at the Shawn Jenkins Children’s Center. The inner atrium is designed like a flowing river, she said, and it’s “a really peaceful place for the little kids to go outside.”
Other outreach and horticultural therapy efforts include MUSC’s STAR program at the Department of Psychiatry to help children ages 6 to 17 to stabilize, treat, assess, and reintegrate into society. And for those unable to join Langford and others in the garden, Langford said she’s bringing what she can to patients.
For more community engagement, the farm received funds to build what it called an urban kitchen. The kitchen is located in the center of the garden and is equipped with a propane and charcoal grill, cob oven (a type of wood-fired pizza oven), sink and refrigerator. “That allowed us to have chefs come in from the hospital and do cooking demonstrations on how to make healthy snacks and pizza and stuff,” Langford said. “It really raised our level of teaching, and we hope to do more of that in the coming year.”
The kitchen and garden will be provided by local chefs BJ Dennis, a private chef specializing in Gullah Geechee cuisine, and Nikko Cagalanan of Filipino pop-up Mansueta’s during the Charleston stop of Outstanding in the Field, a touring event that celebrates the culinary Experience brings, harnessed to the source of the ingredients. The event challenges chefs to use South Carolina produce to create Gullah Geechee and Filipino-style dishes. Other events such as dinners with local nonprofit Slow Foods Charleston, MUSC-related gatherings and a campus field day are also hosted at the farm, Langford said.
The MUSC urban farm and kitchen can be rented for private parties and events. Group activities and tours can be planned with staff. Activities include tasting events (e.g. picking a fresh piece of okra off the branch and nibbling on it), corporate programs or departmental activities. The farm is open to the public to enter and enjoy, but public harvesting is not permitted.
“It’s amazing how many people don’t know we’re here, even people who work here,” Langford said. “We really want people to know that it’s available and that they’re enjoying it.”
MUSC Urban Farm is located at 29 Bee St. Contact us for information on private events, tours, activities and more email@example.com.
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