Garden volunteers Aster Knox and Joanna Cooley weed a bed of carrots and beets July 8 at the Wright-Patterson Medical Center Garden, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The volunteer-run garden grows everything from tomatoes to watermelon and welcomes anyone with base access to help. (U.S. Air Force photo/Caroline Clauson)

Wright-Patt medical center garden sows more than just plants

It is part of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base mission to develop new leaders, wings and ways of thinking, but the Wright-Patterson Medical Center Garden is cultivating growth from the ground up.

Initially a food clinic organized for a medical center study on diabetic and pre-diabetic therapy, the 100-by-100-foot plot, a few boxes of seeds and a handful of volunteers bloomed into a base garden that supports and becomes community.

“I love this garden,” said Garry Abfalter, president of the Greene County Master Gardener Volunteers and manager of the medical center garden. “I’m proud of what the workers here have done, keeping it going for seven years now.”

Airmen heading to the hospital or taking the detour to Dodge Fitness Center may have noticed purple coneflower and dill bordering the fenced garden area, planted right off Redbud Lane behind the medical center in Area A.

Variety of programs fosters strong minds for strong missions

The medical center garden features plants from watermelon and basil to hops and lilies. A large butterfly garden in back attracts pollinators that help the vegetables grow, and handicap- and wheelchair-accessible beds allow anyone to work in the garden.

“I enjoy the variety,” said Abfalter. “Everybody has different tastes, and we try to accommodate all of them.”

Volunteers learn to care for plants under master gardeners like Abfalter, trained and certified by the Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program, which beautifies the Miami Valley with flora and funds Wright-Patterson’s plot.

Abfalter says the project continues to encourage personal growth.

“Garden participants enjoy a variety of benefits – learning to grow and eat vegetables, getting some physical exercise, improving their flexibility and mobility, working off any stresses from day-to-day life and enjoying lots of fresh air,” Abfalter said.

Volunteers get to choose, eat, can, cook and share what they grow. The garden also donates excess fresh produce to the medical center cafeteria and the FISH food pantry in Fairborn.

In the future, the base gardeners hope to meet unique military needs, partnering with mental health divisions to help rehabilitate patients with post-traumatic stress disorder. It would also like to share the produce it grows with enlisted Airmen’s families.

Abfalter welcomes anyone with base access to volunteer with the group, and a green thumb isn’t required. As extra rain accelerates both weeds and garden plants, the group would love more hands, expert or otherwise. All tools are provided on site. Gardeners typically put in work on Mondays and Thursdays any time before dusk.

But for Abfalter, it’s the holistic experience of pulling thistles in the sun that brings him out to the garden every week.

“A lot of it is the comradery among the people,” Abfalter said. “And I like fresh vegetables. I like seeing things grow.”

Airmen interested in joining the gardening group can contact Susan Agee at 937-257-1786 or Abfalter at 937-439-2820.

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