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Doctors Have Plans for Raising Rochester, One Garden at a Time

Here's how KidzKare, a division of the area's oldest pediatrics practice, is redefining children's healthcare in the Rochester area.

The roots of Kidz1st Pediatrics run deep in Rochester Hills.

And starting this spring, those roots will literally start to spread throughout the city.

Jay Mitchell, Silvia Operti-Considine and the rest of the doctors and staff at Kidz1st, the Rochester area's first pediatrics practice, are hard at work planning a communitywide organic gardening project that will help support their mission: to help the struggling families of the Rochester area.

Called "Raising Rochester," the project will install potentially hundreds of raised bed organic gardens in May at various locations across Rochester and Rochester Hills. The fresh fruit and vegetable bounty from the gardens will help stock food pantries this summer.

"It's grassroots, the whole living-green idea," said Mitchell, whose idea for the garden project was inspired, in part, by a video of a teacher in the Bronx area of New York who launched a similar garden project in his school community.

"When you give people fresh produce, it will help them eat a well-balanced diet. This is all about healthy families, healthy kids."

Helping families

Kidz1st was formed in 2001 as a continuation of the pediatrics practice that Mitchell's father-in-law, Brad Barnes, first joined in the 1960s. Mitchell and Operti-Considine are co-owners of the practice; Barnes still sees patients there. 

In 2011 the doctors formed a nonprofit group to partner with the practice. Called KidzKare, it aims to create and support activities that improve the physical, mental, emotional, social and educational health of children in the greater Rochester area.  

Here's just part of what KidzKare does for Rochester-area families:

  • Reach Out and Read: Through this unique literacy program, every patient who comes into the office leaves with an age-appropriate book. There's a mini library of sorts inside the office; in December KidzKare donated its 10,000th book.
  • Kidz Basics: If patients are in need of clothing, this program will provide them with a gift bag full of three to four days of gently used clothing in the right size. Since last May, they've clothed more than 235 kids. "We don't hesitate, we just give," said Kathy Campbell, a KidzKare coordinator.
  • Health education: The pediatricians make themselves available to speak with community groups about everything from ADHD to nutrition to toddlers and tantrums. 
  • Health screenings: Last year KidzKare assembled a group of 40 area businesses and service organizations for the first-ever Back to School Bonanza, a free health clinic with dental and vision screenings. They saw 397 kids during the daylong event. 

And there are more projects on the horizon: doctors have a long-term vision for a free health clinic for kids in Rochester Hills. They're also building a daycare center, complete with a "sick room" as an extension of their pediatrics practice.

Last fall, KidzKare received the Philanthropic Business of the Year award from the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In December the organization received a community "thank-you" from the Village of Rochester Hills when they were chosen as a winner of the Village's "holiday giving" program.  

Raising Rochester

The organic garden project was Mitchell's idea. It came to him from the work he did last year in a garden at the First Congregational Church in Rochester. That garden provided fresh produce to the food pantry for the Rochester Area Neighborhood House.

"It was meeting such an important need," Mitchell said. "I thought, 'How can we expand this? How can we get fresh produce to the people in our community who need it most?'"

The gardens that will be installed in the Rochester area will be 4-foot-by-5-foot raised beds, based on the concept behind "The New Square Foot Garden" by Mel Bartholomew. These gardens will be made from non-soil, organic materials that make it easy to grow many plants in a small space, Mitchell said.

Mitchell and KidzKare are searching for sponsors for the gardens; sponsors will pay between $250-$300 to host a garden on their property. Half of the produce will go the food pantry; the rest will be sold at area Farmers' Markets to support the KidzKare programs; a small percentage will be kept by the garden hosts. The gardens will be installed in May. 

"Goal No. 1 is to plant these things all over Rochester," Mitchell said.

Then, he plans to take the project into the schools. And eventually, he said Rochester could be turned into a "destination for agritourism."

"Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will overwhelm the food pantry with fresh produce," he said. 

How you can help

Give books, clothing: KidzKare collects gently used books and clothing and shoes. Sizes infant through 5T are the most-requested.

Make a donation: Monetary contributions will help the many programs. Send to 2370 Walton Blvd, Suite 3, Rochester Hills, MI 48309

Volunteer: Call 248-651-8197, ext. 171, to see what opportunities are available or to receive information about Raising Rochester sponsorships.

June Hopaluk February 19, 2013 at 03:33 PM
I love the community garden movement. It is a lucky child who learns to plant and nurture a garden and to enjoy the fruits of that garden. It is a little like "Giving a man a fish or teaching a man to fish." Give a child a fresh grown carrot or teach a child to grow his own carrot. I hope KidzKare will involve the families and children who will benefit from the fruits of the gardens in planting and tending.
Susan Heholt February 19, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Make sure you fence off the gardens, so that the deer and rabbits can't eat all your produce.
Janice February 20, 2013 at 01:57 AM
This should be a garden in one place where there is someone to care for it every day. People from the community could volunteer their time to tend to the gardens to pull weeds. They should do this in an effort with a nursery using their expertise. There are obsticles to a successful garden such as squash borers. First you get the larve that eat through the stems of the cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, basically anything with a vine. Then all of a sudden you have all these black beatles things taking over, you have to spray something. And in Rochester Hills there are so rabbits and deers that are eating all the foilage, they eat all the yellow blossems that turns into the fruit. It's really a nice idea but it's different than doing it somewhere like the Bronx where you don't have wildlife to contend with. Wouldn't it be better to donate money so that we could buy produce from the local farmers to give to the needy families? Let's do what people do best. The doctors can concentrate on being doctors and the farmers can farm. Buy local, support your local farmers and the people in your community.
Patricia February 20, 2013 at 01:04 PM
The plan is to have the gardens all over the community-even a single raised box. Volunteers will take care of the garden if the property owner wishes. There is plenty of space for these and it would really bring back the sort of Victory Garden concept that were so abundant before-it may cut down on the use of chemicals and fertilizers that are put on lawns for a constant water/cut throughout the season. If just one area was planted, it would produce something useful. I wish them a lot of success and we can still support our local farmers. But, seeing the need as well for food in the community and understanding that fresh food is better, I hope we see these in abundance and they will also add an element of community and ambience to our neighborhoods and bushiness areas.
Cheryl Junker February 20, 2013 at 04:15 PM
This sounds wonderful Patricia! Perhaps I can convince our neighborhood to participate! I love the local community garden idea! I only wish I were more of a green thumb! I spent the weekend watching documentaries and most recently Food Inc. and Gaslands! It is great to start locally, and then think beyond. Having driven across the country in the 70s, 80s, several times in the 90s and last summer, I am saddened to see the destruction of our air and water system which is very evident in places like Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and even New Mexico. The air quality in Salt Lake was unbelievable last summer presumably due to recent wild fire activity! After watching Gasland, I am starting to suspect the fumes from the gas drilling not only is contributing to the rapid deterioration of the air quality out west but leading to the acceleration of wild fires! It depletes local water sources ( of which there are very few out west ) as well as emits toxic fumes which settle on surrounding wild life...... a very destructive combination for a country in drought! 'Gasland' is a must see for those not familiar with the gas drilling phenomenon that is taking place across this country. It has come to Michigan with a vengeance! I hope to attend the town hall meeting in West Bloomfield on Feb 27th as well as start my indoor seed garden!
Jay Mitchell March 03, 2013 at 03:29 PM
It is unfortunate that it is the "lucky" child that can benefit. I want it to be every child!!! And, yes, "Teach a man to fish..." was definitely on my mind in developing this program. Children (and families) will be central to any success that this program has.
Jay Mitchell March 03, 2013 at 03:29 PM
That's in the plan, too!
Jay Mitchell March 03, 2013 at 03:33 PM
The grassroots re-growth of the "Victory Gardens" was one of my inspirations. This program will GREATLY cut down on chemicals, increase yield, improve taste, and increase availability. Our local farmers will not be able to keep up if the demand from the community is what it should be.
Jay Mitchell March 03, 2013 at 03:36 PM
The garden in one place, in the ground, in rows, maintained by a "farmer" is not going away anytime soon. However, as population grows and if we buy and eat what we should, agricultural economists predict that existing farmland will only be able to meet our needs for about forty more years. And to make it that long, it will take even more fertilizer and pesticides each year. Economists see the growth of small gardens (<1 acre) throughout communities as the absolute best solution to a rather dire prediciton.
Jay Mitchell March 03, 2013 at 03:43 PM
We have many professional agricultural/gardening partners supporting the program educationally to assure its growth, health, and success. And the "return on investment" analysis for Raising Rochester over a ten year period has led to more than one financial professional with whom I have discussed the program to say "Why haven't we done this sooner?"
Jay Mitchell March 03, 2013 at 03:44 PM
Anyone who wishes more information in RR or to participate in any way, big or small, please contact me at info@raisingrochester.net.

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