A Summer to Garden

TouroCOM-Middletown students plant a community garden to beautify campus and teach about healthy eating.

August 21, 2015
The team worked on removing soil from the ground to make room for the gravel and picnic tables that would be placed in the garden.
The team worked on removing soil from the ground to make room for the gravel and picnic tables that would be placed in the garden.

When Edward entered Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine-Middletown last year, he missed putting his horticultural skills—and green thumb—to use. While the interior of the newly purchased campus (the site of the former Horton Hospital) had been renovated, the outside landscaping hadn’t been touched in years, and was devoid of any flora or fauna. Edward wanted to add a garden bed or two to brighten up the campus.

With the help of Touro administration, he went scouting—for potential planting locations, and for friends to help him. He found both. His fellow classmates Vishwas Patel and Neomal Muthumala (known as Vish and Neo, respectively) volunteered enthusiastically to join the team. Two others, Nimi Rejali and Sam Sirotnikov, also volunteered to help, the former of whom lent a pickup truck to help with transportation of supplies.

When the team found a small patch of grass in the back lot of campus, they saw an acre of potential. After receiving generous funding from property owner Tony Danza of Danza/Leser, the medical students shopped for supplies: organic soil, vegetable seeds, 1.5 yards of gravel from a bulk distribution center, garden tools, and other necessary supplies.

“I was brought up in a very green household,” notes Vish. “My parents—who’ve been growing organic vegetables right in our backyard for years—always encouraged environmentalism. I grew up knowing how important it was for us to help the environment and protect the earth.”

Devin Stephenson watches the snow peas grow.With the help of TouroCOM-Middletown staff members Alex Yordan and Eddie Walters, the team borrowed a bulldozer to excavate an area to pave a walkway. In early spring, they prepared the soil inside the bed and began planting seeds and sprouts: kale, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, and more. In early summer, their vegetables began growing.

Seeing the fruits (well, vegetables) of their labor was satisfying, they said, so after the completion of the garden bed, they kept going. “We found an old picnic table that was going to be thrown out, and then asked ourselves, ‘Hey, why don’t we add this to the garden?’ We took it apart, pressure-washed it, let it dry in the sun, put it back together and then painted it,” said Edward, whose carpentry skills came in handy. After the picnic table was complete, they added a bench and built a white picket fence.

They began the project before spring break, and—in between the long hours of studying, reading, and exams endemic of any medical student—worked on most of the heavy labor and building throughout the spring semester and summer recess. 

‌“These young men worked tirelessly,” said Frank Rose, Director of Admissions at TouroCOM-Middletown. “And before we knew it, the project suddenly ‘blossomed’ from a simple raised garden bed to a completely fenced-in picnic area, complete with two vegetable gardens and flowers.” The crew is also planning on adding arbors and umbrellas for the picnic benches—to encourage sitting outdoors even in the midst of New York’s hot, sunny summers.

In keeping with their mission to promote environmentalism, the team is attempting to use as many recycled materials as they can: Most of the material for the fence, pavers, bench, and one picnic table were all refurbished items already found on the property. 

And the project isn’t stopping there: The team plans to use the garden as a way of spreading awareness about health and environmentalism—not only at TouroCOM-Middletown, but within the greater Middletown community at large.  

“There’s a lot of potential here for community involvement, for interaction with Middletown’s youth population,” said Neo, who came to Middletown from Santa Clarita, California. “We’re planning to start an educational program in which we’ll have elementary schools come over to pick vegetables while teaching them about healthy living.”  

Currently, the team is in formal contact with Orange County’s Farm to Table program to collaborate with local school districts on education about healthy eating, gardening, environmentalism, and exercise.

“That’s something else that’s very unique about this garden: It’s bringing a lot of people in our school together,” Edward says. “Students, faculty and staff helped plant the vegetables, and a number of committed first-year students are watering the garden to help maintain it.” As of yet there is no steady water supply, so the crew needs to bring the water over from a far-away source via canisters. “It’s a lot of work, but the first-year students are dedicated.”

“We have almost 300 medical students in our school,” adds Vish. “It’s going to be a fascinating educational experience for us to interact with kids in the local area to teach them about science and healthy eating—just a small way we can give back to the community that has given and supported us tremendously.”

Want to see how the garden grew? Check out the photo gallery below.

The team would like to thank Alex Yordan, staff member at TouroCOM, who ensured proper and safe equipment use and helped with certain construction parts of the garden. Additionally, they would like to thank Tony Danza of Danza/Leser who provided the funds, and Frank Rose, Admissions Director at TouroCOM-Middletown, for helping organize financing.