Partner Spotlight: Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote of Saratoga Community Health Center

We have launched an exciting new partnership with Saratoga Community Health Center (CHC). Our farmer, Aliza Pickering, is co-teaching a Horitculture Therapy Program along with Dr. Renee Rodriguez-Goodemote of the Saratoga Hospital Community Health Center. The program aims to use seeds and seedlings as an allegory for healthcare and healthy relationships. Participants in the program will plant seeds and have the opportunity to take them home or move them to the center's gardens out back or to the CHC Community Garden plot at the Farm. Patients will also have access to the CHC van 2-3x weekly to take them to the Farm.

Can you tell us a little about the CHC and the patient population you serve?

The Saratoga Community Health Center opened its doors in 2013 through the generous support of Saratoga Hospital, the Saratoga Hospital Foundation and community donors. Our mission is to provide high quality integrated care to anyone regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.  We offer dental, primary care, behavioral health and addiction medicine services as an integrated team depending on the individual needs of our patients.

Why did a health center get involved in food programs for its patients? 
We strive to understand our community and the unique needs of our patients. One of the ways we accomplish this is by doing a social determinants survey.  We look for common obstacles and develop strategies around these obstacles. We found that at various times of the year 14-31% of people reported food access as their number one need. We already have a teaching food pantry, a small community garden behind the health center and a Nutrition Rx program.  Through these programs we heard patients say over and over that they enjoy the taste of fresh healthy food but they can’t afford it.  These programs are a vital resource but they have been incomplete in addressing food insecurity.

Can you tell us about the Horticulture Therapy Program you have designed and what your inspiration was?
Our group programs enable participants to work on multiple dimensions of health. We started with a Nutrition Rx program about three years ago.  It was a wonderful way to get families trying fresh organic vegetables while learning about the medicinal qualities of vegetables.  Patients have been able to improve their health as well as their relationship with food.  We chose horticultural therapy as a way for participants to socialize, improve mood, learn something new and further enhance their relationship with food.  Patients can become more thoughtful about where their food comes from and what they choose to eat when they become part of the growing process.

What do you hope patients will gain as a result of the program and of having access to the Community Gardens at Pitney Meadows Community Farm?
We hope that the Saratoga Community Health Center horticultural program with Pitney Meadows Community Farm is the beginning of a relationship with nature and community. The Pitney Meadows Community Farm not only provides fertile ground for growing flowers and vegetables, it provides an opportunity for patients to experience personal growth.  Their time with seeds and soil can lay the groundwork for holistic mind and body wellness.

How can the larger Saratoga Springs community help address food security for our fellow community members who might be struggling?
We recognize that local produce is a vital building block for overall health.  We are now learning about how difficult it can be for some in our community to access healthy nutrition. The Pitney Meadows Community Farm brings the medical and larger community together to improve food access, increase awareness and provide a safe place for growth to occur.  Our collaboration strengthens community by nurturing the personal and physical growth of those we serve.

Pitney Meadows Farmer Aliza Pickering with a Horiticulture Therapy Program student.

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