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UCLA

The Healing Garden

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By Bekah Wright

Published Apr 1, 2017 8:00 AM


UCLA’s first vertical garden enables Semel Institute patients to grow their own food and reduce stress.


Lynn Safenowitz, assistant director of Rehabilitation Services at UCLA RNPH (right), and Bonny Bentzin, deputy chief sustainability officer for UCLA. Photo by Nurit Katz.

The word "zen" is often used in relation to gardens. Epitomizing this concept is UCLA’s first vertical garden, located on the Semel Institute building’s B floor deck. But rather than mere sand requiring raking, this garden comprises six aeroponic and hydroponic towers. Zen comes by way of lush, vibrant vegetables and flowers and the melodic sound of flowing water.

Seedlings grow in soil-free reservoirs along the towers, which operate via a closed water reservoir system. A pump circulates nutrient-enhanced water to plants, accelerating growth.

Patients of Resnick Hospital do garden chores — from pH testing and pest control to germinating seeds and harvesting plants — and take part in herb drying, meal planning and cooking.

The garden was the brainchild of Nancy Glaser, founding president of Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital’s board of advisers. Her friendship with Wendy Coleman, co-founder of L.A. Urban Farms, gave her an idea: “Based on research, we knew we were sitting on a need at the hospital [for] a natural setting that reduces stress, provides a soothing environment and can be meaningful and impactful in programming.”

Bringing the vision to life were Coleman and Resnick’s assistant director of rehab services, Lynn Safenowitz.

“There’s a special connection people have to their food when they grow it themselves,” Safenowitz says. “An understanding is garnered of the journey food takes to get to your plate. This connection inspires people to make healthier food choices, which in turn leads to a healthier environment.”

Thomas Strouse, Resnick’s medical director, says the gardens “provide an innovative clinical programming opportunity for our hospital and day populations to learn about the tending, caring, harvesting and nutrition of plant life.”

Safenowitz marvels at the gardens’ impact on all of Resnick’s patients — adults, adolescents and children.

“They increase mood, decrease anxiety and serve as a place for relaxation, rehabilitation, restoration and mindfulness,” she says.

The gardens are inspiring other installations around UCLA, says Nurit Katz M.B.A./M.P.P. ’08, the university’s chief sustainability officer. “With a daily population of 80,000, UCLA is a dense urban campus, and we will demonstrate sustainable food system solutions for the region like vertical agriculture, integrating health and sustainability.”

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