BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A quarter-acre vegetable garden is taking shape
at the University at Buffalo, pioneered by a group of medical
students who are putting into practice one of the axioms of the
modern Hippocratic Oath: "I will prevent disease whenever I can,
for prevention is preferable to cure."
In this case, prevention is starting with a plot of land
adjacent to Creekside Village, a townhouse complex for graduate and
professional students on the north end of UB's North Campus, where
the soil is rich and there is easy access to water, two essential
requirements for a successful vegetable garden.
The garden was the inspiration of second-year medical students
Jennifer Chang and Dan Donovan, organizers of the group that calls
itself "Sprouts." They were determined to motivate their colleagues
to change their fast-food eating habits after coming face-to-face
with the ramifications of an unhealthy lifestyle.
"During our hospital rounds we saw so much chronic disease --
diabetes, heart disease, obesity -- all lifestyle diseases that are
preventable with a healthy, nutritious diet," says Chang.
"Then we looked around at the medical school students, and
realized that many of us opt for cheap processed foods that are
full of fats and sugars, contrary to what we are taught to tell
patients about the importance of daily fruit and vegetable
"We wanted a movement, not just a lecture on healthy eating, but
we had no members, no money -- just a dream. We figured having a
garden is a way to spark interest. It's an old idea that's new
again. So that's where we started. It connects people with their
food, and that is something few of us are doing."
Chang and Donovan began talking up the idea with other medical
students, and started holding meetings and soliciting donations to
cover costs of promoting the idea. To test the interest of fellow
students in eating healthy, they set up baskets of apples for sale
in the back of classrooms.
"We sold hundreds of apples," says Chang. "You could hear
students crunching apples all over the classroom."
Word of the Sprouts plan spread, and students from other South
Campus professional schools, as well as a sprinkling of
undergraduates, came onboard. Members set up a website and began
blogging. They posted videos of medical students preparing healthy
dishes in their apartment kitchens. Peter Ostrow, MD, PhD,
associate professor of pathology, volunteered to be their faculty
advisor. Sprouts now has nearly 200 student members.
The group aims to change the perception of food preparation and
consumption among medical students and raise awareness about
nutritional approaches to lasting change for the health of Western
New Yorkers through their own garden experiences.
While the initial goal of group is to have medical students get
their hands into the soil and learn how to start and maintain a
garden, they hope to educate the UB community about nutrition and
healthy food preparation through on-campus events and seminars.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, April 24, 23 riders from UB's medical
student chapter of the American Medical Association will join the
200 riders participating in the "Miles for Healthier Lifestyles"
bike ride, which originated in Boston and ends in Niagara Fall. The
UB riders are using the event to help raise funds for Sprouts.
(Persons interested in making a contribution can go to http://www.supportourgroup.com/ZF1670.)
Chang and Donovan now have passed the garden spade along to
Angela Sandell, co-president for business, and Tom Langan,
co-president and garden manager. They will be supported by a core
of a dozen more medical students. The group plans to have the plot
ready for midsummer planting.
"I am honored to be a part of a movement toward prevention of
chronic disease, beginning with healthy food choices," says
Sandell. "I'm excited to see the enthusiasm for the organization
from students, administration and staff. We are proving that a
critical mass of motivated individuals can bring about change."
Crops from the Sprouts farm will be distributed to local
charities; some will be used for cooking lessons and
demonstrations, with the remainder divided among garden volunteers.
Sprouts members also plan to develop ways for medical students to
learn how to counsel their patients on nutrition, weight loss and
For more information on the garden, go to http://wings.buffalo.edu/org/sprouts.