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Community gardens at Utah hospitals help nurture good health, a sense of belonging


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OREM — Severe anxiety confines Dinora Espinoza to her apartment much of the time, but there's one place outside where she feels right at home.

Tending to her plot in a community garden helps ease her mind. The fresh air clears away negative thoughts, she said. And unlike with people, she doesn't have to worry about her plants passing judgement.

"Being out in the garden, I don't think about stuff like that," a beaming Espinoza told KSL-TV during a break from tilling soil on a recent afternoon. "It just brings this joy."

Her family's apartment in Vineyard has no place to grow peppers, lettuce and berries. But the Orem Community Hospital does. It's one of three Intermountain Healthcare LiVe Well gardens in Utah. The others are at Park City Medical center and Fillmore Community Hospital.

Espinoza, 45, said she's noticed improvements in her physical health, too. She has high blood pressure and diabetes, but her blood pressure dips down to a healthier level during the months she's planting, watering and harvesting alongside other gardeners, she said.

Those benefits are the goal of the gardens, said Cameron Symonds, medical director at Orem Community Hospital. The program is designed to nurture participants' physical and mental health, along with a sense of community, he said.

Intermountain Healthcare’s LiVe Well garden at the Orem Community Hospital gives people a space to garden.
Intermountain Healthcare’s LiVe Well garden at the Orem Community Hospital gives people a space to garden. (Photo: Ken Fall, KSL-TV)

"Our community garden plots really are a wonderful symbol of growth and healing," Symonds said.

You don't have to be a patient or employee at the hospital to participate, but there are no more plots available this season. The application process for plots opens each winter.

Espinoza is one of several community members who tend their own corners of the garden, along with staff members of the hospital system and volunteers.

The garden is a preventive approach to health care that helps people see the hospital as more than just a place where hard things can happen, Symonds added.

"To be healthy, be out, be active, be out in the sun, they're investing in themselves and their own health," he said.

The health benefits of gardening are well documented, Symonds noted. People tend to live better and longer. For example, researchers have recorded improvement in dementia and reduced risk of heart attack, Symonds said.

Michelle Conover and her kids transplant young crops at their garden plot near the Orem Community Hospital.
Michelle Conover and her kids transplant young crops at their garden plot near the Orem Community Hospital. (Photo: Ken Fall, KSL-TV)

Michelle Conover experienced a different sort of benefit. She developed post-partum depression after the births of her children, now 7 and 3 years old, she said.

"Coming up here in the summers and getting outside and getting into the garden, it helped me a ton," Conover recalled.

Her kids have tagged along every summer, she added, and they love to munch on peas and other vegetables.

Espinoza has long been afraid of bugs, but she doesn't mind their company as much when she's digging in the dirt, she said – something that surprised her daughters.

She and her husband came across the program while researching community gardens near their home that could help relieve the effects of her wintertime depression.

They snagged a plot before each filled up, and the experience has given her a new sense of accomplishment and a new outlook as she studies to become an art instructor.

"I'm already starting to think ahead," she said, crossing her fingers and laughing. "Hopefully everything grows, right?

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