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Cooking classes and gardening events provide health benefits to community at large

Growing Gardens is a nonprofit dedicated to the mission of everyone having equal access to healthy food through sharing of resources, educating each other and learning new skills.

Through a partnership with Providence Milwaukie Hospital, that mission comes to life with cooking classes and the Garden of Giving.COURTESY PHOTO: ANNA GARWOOD - Camilo Centeno, Growing Gardens community organizer, North Portland, and Gabi Villaseñor, Growing Gardens community coordinator, Clackamas, get ready to upgrade some garden boxes at Providence Milwaukie Hospital's Garden of Giving.

"Our partnership is to expand Spanish-speaking support in the garden and the kitchen," said Rashae Burns, the Home Gardens director with Growing Gardens.

The cooking classes are held in the Providence Community Teaching Kitchen. They are open to the public to register and attend; classes are offered in both English and Spanish.

The classes are attended by community members, caregivers at Providence and patients referred to CTK by their provider for nutrition or dietician support. Produce from the garden is used in classes, in the pantry and given in recipe bags for cooking classes, which are taught by the community teaching kitchen chefs.

Recently, popular dishes cooked in the CTK included frittatas, blueberry and citrus-infused muffins and a vegan lunch, Burns said.

Because many of the participants have been referred to CTK by their healthcare provider, "these classes are to address food barriers, support improvements in diet and nutrition and bring the community together around food, while sharing affordable recipes and providing the resource of the pantry to supplement food for families," she noted.

People can sign up for classes and find out more about CTK on the Providence Hospital website at Providence Milwaukie Hospital is located at 10150 S.E. 32nd Ave.

Garden of Giving

The Garden of Giving has been at Providence Hospital for 12 years; it was started by a group of nurses who have maintained the garden. At the time, all the produce was donated to a local pantry and nearby affordable housing community.

Growing Gardens started a partnership with the garden in 2022 to support the direction to bridge gardening with nutrition and health care. The nonprofit did not build the original garden, but it is preparing to restore the 48 garden boxes at the site.

"We grow everything that you can in the Pacific Northwest, including tomatoes, peppers, collards, cabbage, lettuce, medicinal herbs, corn and squash," Burns said.

She added that there also an orchard with pears, apple and cherries.

The garden program is led by Romanet Leiva, Growing Gardens Health Partnership coordinator. She joined Growing Gardens in August 2022 "to deepen the organization's connection with the Latinx and Spanish-speaking community," Burns said.

Leiva leads a six-week gardening series at the Garden of Giving each season; new gardening classes will restart in February 2023.

She also offers a separate Garden with Roma opportunity from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursdays for Providence staff, patients and community members. Sign up on Volunteer Match to take part at

Gardening as connection to health

"The Garden of Giving is a special place. The collaboration and connection to gardening as health intervention is a new way we are talking about gardening, though it has always been a respite for health and wellness," Burns said.

"Through gardening, our participants share their health journeys and how gardening improves their overall lifestyle," she said.

Not only do Growing Gardens programs reduce food insecurity, but they also eliminate the barrier of having access to healthy, organically grown produce, increase physical activity and bring the community together after the pandemic increased social isolation, Burns noted.

She also pointed out that another of Growing Gardens programs is Home Gardens, which partners with low-income households and families in Milwaukie, Oregon City and the metro area, to eliminate the barriers to starting a sustainable food-producing garden.

"Income-qualified families can sign up to receive a no-cost Home Garden in their backyard, and we offer gardening support and education in both Spanish and English," Burns said.

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