MARTINSBURG — The Martinsburg VA Medical Center received a solar pump for Veterans Green Acres Park/Greenhouse, their on-campus garden.
The garden provides food for the patients and residents and also serves as a place for healing for veterans with medical or psychological issues. Over three hundred veterans are fed on the campus daily.
With help from volunteers, the garden has grown over the last several years. Former employee Marianne Caruso now works weekly as a volunteer at the garden.
“I’m a volunteer here but I represent the Daughters of the American Revolution Shepherdstown Pack Horse Ford Chapter,” Caruso said. “We get involved with a lot of community projects. It’s very community-based.”
Engineers Without Borders International co-founder Roger Ethier delivered a 180 gallons-per-hour solar pump that is portable and able to supply water to any point in the gardens.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity that Roger has brought, something so we can do more in going green,” Caruso said.
Deputy Public Affairs Officer Sarah Tolstyka said the VA wants to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
“What’s nice is we are all about going green within the VA We have a waste management program here. So when you are able to have a garden and the veterans come out and use their green thumb, as I like to call it, it’s really beautiful,” Deputy Public Affairs Officer Sarah Tolstyka said.
Ethier added, “It’s a win/win situation. Veterans find comfort working in the garden, and veterans enjoy the crops that are grown.
“These guys are excited about gardening ,and they want to come out here all the time.”
The garden is producing food weekly for the hospital.
“[A volunteer] pulled up a whole big bed full of beets. We also picked a bed full of radishes and took that up to the kitchen. They really get the hang of it. A lot of them have never done any gardening before at all,” Caruso said.
“At the medical center, we have activities. This is another activity. This is another avenue for veterans to come and release those thoughts, those feelings, the stress, PTSD. I mean, it is a calming avenue when they come out and enjoy the outdoors. They learn to nurture the plant because you have to have some nurturing to grow. That’s a nurturing process and I think that nurturing helps veterans. To nurture something and then, in turn, nurture themselves again,” she added.
A larger operation has already been planned for the future.
“One of our objectives is to build a high tunnel here. It’s a very long greenhouse. It’s 70 feet long by 40 feet wide,” Ethier said. “The VA has a nutrition program that uses fresh vegetables and they concentrate on fresh vegetables, and this is part of that, and when we get that greenhouse in we will really have a lot of fresh vegetables 12 months a year.”
That would allow crops to be grown year-round.
Ethier has done much of the solar and plumbing work at the Ranson Community Garden which now has a high tunnel greenhouse and produces food for many of the food banks and kitchens in Jefferson County.
“They’re always developing and finding a way, especially when it’s important to veterans and to their health,” Tolstyka said.