Mater plants pilot study to boost wellbeing of health workers

Mater is pioneering therapeutic horticulture for its hospital staff with the launch of an edible garden pilot project, designed to reduce burnout and enhance the wellbeing of health workers.

The pilot is the first of its kind at an Australian hospital and is being run in conjunction with Bond University researchers to determine the health and nutritional wellbeing benefits of gardening at work.

Mater Director of Dietetics and Food Services Sally McCray said healthcare workers had been under increased pressure in recent years with the global pandemic, and therapeutic horticulture was one way to ‘care for carers’.

“We are starting off with a small growers group of interested staff members who will maintain the outdoor gardens and be able to harvest the produce for their own use,” Sally said.

“This initial group will inform a broader staff health and wellbeing edible garden program at our South Brisbane campus, that we plan to roll out at the end of this year.

“Following this we would hope to take our key learnings and further expand and adapt the edible garden program to our Mater sites in Redland, Springfield, Rockhampton, Mackay, Bundaberg and Townsville. We are keen to see the health, wellbeing and nutritional benefits of an edible garden program for all of our staff across the state”.

Mater is also pioneering edible gardens for patients, partnering with celebrity chef Luke Mangan and Vegepod Australia to grow culinary greens in the hospital kitchen.

The micro herbs will be used in a range of dishes, co-created by Mater Executive Chef Aman Marwah and Luke Mangan, to boost the nutritional intake of patients.

“Through Mater’s partnership with Luke Mangan, we have developed a range of new menus that provide patients with nutritionally-balanced, restaurant-style dishes,” Sally said.

Bond University senior conjoint research dietitian, Dr Jennifer Utters, said Mater was at the forefront of hospital nutrition and food services, having introduced the first room service menu model for hospital patients in 2013 and forming a national first-off partnership with  restaurateur Luke Mangan in 2020.

“The benefits of therapeutic horticulture are becoming well recognised in disability services, aged care facilities and other settings, for helping to provide tools for respite and a way to care for carers,” Dr Utters said.

“'There is a growing body of research on the health benefits of gardening, including its ability to reduce emotional distress, improve quality of life and increase the consumption of vegetables.

“For staff, research shows that taking breaks in the garden instead of inside could help to reduce burnout reported by health workers.”

Sally said Vegepod Australia had provided a six-square metre self-watering garden that would be located at the hospital’s South Brisbane campus.

Vegepod Head of Community Simon Holloway said three large pods would be used in the pilot with staff able to choose produce from a long list of options, including tomatoes, rocket, spinach, eggplant, chilli, capsicum, bok choy, herbs and more.

“We have seen a huge uptake in vegepods amongst families who are navigating the increasing cost of living at the moment,” Simon said.

“This is the first time we have run a pilot program at a hospital and, apart from cost savings, the gardens enhance nutrition for those who consume the produce while offering huge mental health benefits.

“Staff don’t have the time to visit beaches or forests or riverbanks to enjoy nature-based therapy, but they can get the same sort of benefits from caring for a small garden.

“Apart from mental and spiritual support, staff find there’s a camaraderie that comes with tending the gardens and a great sense of contentment from the act of nurturing.”

Sally said Mater patients would start benefiting from the kitchen-grown ingredients when their new seasonal Luke Mangan menus started being dished up later this month.

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