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In a hot, busy summer, Hamilton paramedics cultivate their garden

What once was a lawn next to Hamilton paramedics' Mountain station, now grows veggies for a food bank and for the low-income seniors next door.

What once was a lawn next to Hamilton paramedics' Mountain station, now grows veggies for a food bank

Hamilton paramedic Heather Little weeds one of 30 garden beds she helped plant on the lawn at the EMS Mountain station. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

It's been a busy summer for Hamilton paramedics.

They have responded to a string of tragic deaths, including deaths of children. They're among the first to show up to help people with extreme heat-related illnesses, or those who've fallen at one of Hamilton's waterfalls, or traumas like the construction worker whose legs were trapped by a concrete slab.

And in their off hours, the paramedics at Station 32 on Limeridge Road on the Mountain have been tending their garden.

Think of all the strips of grass that are otherwise just lawns at the government buildings around the city.

Paramedics Heather Little and Joe Cox at the Mountain paramedics station weren't content to leave theirs as-is.

Three years ago, they got permission to build raised beds and planted seeds over the grass, right next to the wall that tries to block the sound from the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway traffic below.

'Better food is better health'

Last year, they harvested more than 1,400 pounds to give to the nearby Neighbour to Neighbour food bank. They got an initial $5,000 grant from TD to help get the project off the ground.

This year, they've already given 900 pounds. Among the things growing: leeks, lettuces, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, okra, cabbage, chard, Swiss chard, cherry tomatoes, fennel, cucumbers, beets, nasturtium and herbs.

"People who are eating healthy and spending more time outside, it's a direct correlation to someone's health," Little said. "Better food is better health."

'If they're hungry, it's not stealing'

The veggies also benefit seniors living at the public housing complex next door. One of Cox's favourite sights is to see a senior citizen push a walker or maneuver a scooter over to the property, pick a zucchini or two, and head back to cook with it.

Paramedic Heather Little checks on the fennel planted in the garden's herbs section. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Word gets around and sometimes there are fewer veggies on the stalks in the morning than there were the night before.

But it's going to a good place, Cox said.

"If they're hungry, it's not stealing," he said.

So often, Cox said, paramedics are called to help with an immediate problem. This allows them to be part of a solution: healthier eating.

'That's a short release for whatever'

But the garden has merits for the paramedics at the station, too.

One of Cox's co-workers recently had "a really hard call," he said. "She had a shooting and she was really wound up."

Cox ran into her out in the garden and was able to talk it over with her.

"That's a short release for whatever," he said.

Paramedics Joe Cox, Heather Little and Ida Smith chat about how the garden is doing next to their station. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Both Little and Cox spend several of their off-hours every week out in the garden.

One of the new boxes this year is a Three Sisters garden, modeled on a First Nations tradition of planting corn, beans and squash together in a way that lets the plants support each other and thrive together.

"This is the first year that we've tried it in our garden, and it's grown tenfold," Cox said. "And if you're a spiritual person we really believe that this has helped our garden this year." 

@kellyrbennett | kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

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