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Vegetable garden replaces smoking room

Bobby Little (left) and Matthew Potteiger

Bobby Little (left) and Matthew Potteiger discuss seeds for the Garden of Health at Toomey Abbott Towers. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KEETER)


Ronald Jackson remember when people congregated in the smoking room at Toomey Abbott Towers, a public-housing high-rise in Syracuse. That ended in 2015, when the Syracuse Housing Authority enacted a smoke-free policy for its nine building complexes.

Several Toomey Abbott residents, trained by Upstate to do health outreach, liked the idea of transforming the smoking room into an indoor garden where they could grow vegetables. Several years earlier, they had created an outdoor community garden at nearby Pioneer Homes, and they wanted to expand their "grow your own vegetables" health initiative.

Aldrine Ashong-Katai

Aldrine Ashong-Katai

Upstate's Aldrine Ashong-Katai sought guidance from Matthew Potteiger, a professor in the department of landscape architecture at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Potteiger recruited students Brian Swank and Joshua White to research plants and design the indoor garden. Swank and Ashong-Katai, with painting help from Upstate medical students, built the "Garden of Health," which opened in August 2017.

The light-filled room has built-in tables designed to accommodate wheelchairs, so that all residents can tend to the plants. Lights and shelving attached to windows encourage plant growth.

Potteiger worked with Ashong-Katai and the resident health advocates to select seeds that will grow easily indoors. "Greens like lettuce and spinach have a quick life cycle," he explained, "so residents can pluck off leaves for dinner, and the plants will continue to yield more edible greens. They'll be able to grow tomatoes year-round, and herbs like basil, rosemary and chives."

Bobby Little, a resident health advocate who oversees the garden, remarked on its value: "Life's better when you eat right."

Upstate Health Fall 2017 coverThis article appears in the fall 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.