Growing Together garden project

Volunteers fill garden boxes with soil Saturday in North Bend. The boxes, which were part of the "Growing Together" program, was donated to foster families in Coos County.

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COOS COUNTY — There’s something special about growing your own food.

From feeling the silky soil between your fingers to watching the seeds you planted finally begin to sprout — it’s a feeling of accomplishment and pure joy, it’s a feeling Dr. Steven Shimotakahara wanted to share with others.

On Saturday, Dr. Shimotakahara, the chairman of the board of the North Bend Medical Center and board certified ENT physician, donated over 20 garden boxes to local foster families throughout Coos County as a way to encourage their children to eat more vegetables.

A community-based project, which was started by Dr. Shimotakahara about two years ago, the “Growing Together” program not only taught young children about gardening, but also encouraged them to eat healthy.

“Our focus is not only growing gardens, but also their diets because diets have a major effect upon people’s long-term health in terms of things like cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity all of the major health problems that we have today in our society,” said Dr. Shimotakahara, adding "93 percent of kids do not eat their recommended portions of vegetables in the average day. We’re talking about a whole lot of health effects if you can alter people’s diet.”

What began with only six garden boxes in 2018 has grown into 60 garden boxes this year, which were being held at a number of local area schools.

With support from teachers and assistance from Oregon State University’s Extension Service in Coos County, as part of the program students were taught a number of lessons associated with growing their own food.

It also enlisted the help of rural students from the Oregon Health & Science University to conduct a multi-year dietary study before and after the growing season to see whether it had any effects on the kid’s diets, said Dr. Shimotakahara.

However, the program came to halt after schools statewide were ordered to close their doors by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown last month to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Not wanting the garden boxes to go to waste, Dr. Shimotakahara donated the boxes to the NBMC employee group and to Every Child Coos County, which is a community-led nonprofit organization that partners with the Department of Human Services and the Coos County Foster Parent Association to provide support services to local foster families.

A small group of volunteer loaded the garden boxes onto trucks Saturday set to be delivered to foster families in Bandon, Coos Bay, Coquille, Myrtle Point and North Bend. With families spending more time at home under the governor’s executive order, Dr. Shimotakahara said he believes the garden boxes would provide parents with a great opportunity to teach their kids about food security and nutrition.

Over the month of April, families who received garden boxes will be able to pick their own seeds and seedlings from the gardening club at Southwestern Oregon Community College. Children will be able to pick out which vegetables their interested in growing. The greenhouses at SWOCC currently have over 16 different types of vegetables.

"We want them to pick out whatever they like," said Dr. Shimotakahara, who laughed joyfully as he recalled a young girl, who was a part of the gardening program last year, only wanting to pick out radishes.

The program is made possible from funding and donations from a number of organizations including the Bay Area Hospital Community Foundation, OHSU, the Coos Bay/North Bend Rotary Club, Southport Lumber Company, SeaCoast Compost, Ed Hume Seeds and many more.

While the school shutdowns have forced the program to come to an end as far as the studies being conducted, the overall program is not over, said Dr. Shimotakahara. A Facebook page has been started for families who received a garden box to stay in touch and share pictures and updates of their vegetables.

“Once you grow something and watch it grow you’re much more inclined to eat it,” said Dr. Shimotakahara. “I just think this is the way to go not only for the county, but for the whole country.”

Reporter Amanda Linares can be reached at 541-266-6039 or by email at worldnews3@countrymedia.net.

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