Witherell Breaks Ground for Culinary Wellness Garden


Willis family members helped to plant seeds in the Witherell’s Culinary Wellness Garden.

The Nathaniel Witherell welcomed in the warm spring weather earlier this month with a ceremonial groundbreaking at its Culinary Wellness Garden. The 1/4-acre garden was created by volunteers to grow organic heirloom vegetables for Witherell residents.

“Once harvested, the produce from this garden – which will include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, radishes, salad greens, peas, beets, green beans, zucchini, squash, Swiss chard, spinach, and a variety of herbs – will go directly to Witherell’s kitchen for food preparation for the residents’ meals,” says Harry Shea, Witherell’s Culinary Wellness Garden co-founder. “In addition, care will be taken to organize the garden with raised beds for wheel-chair access for those residents interested in participating in garden care.”

On site for the groundbreaking were Allen Brown, Witherell’s Executive Director, Dr. Francis Walsh, Medical Director, Sally Van Leeuwen, Volunteer Coordinator, Mr. Shea, and Linda Willis, widow of co-founder Bob Willis. The special ceremony included the unveiling of a memorial bench in honor of Mr. Willis, a cherished Witherell volunteer and visionary for the garden. Also in attendance were many Willis family members and friends, who helped plant salad greens and peas.

The idea for the garden originated a couple of years ago when the late Willis and Shea approached the Witherell about planting a culinary garden to benefit its skilled nursing care residents. The duo certainly had the expertise – Willis was a seasoned restaurateur who had served as General Manager of Maxwell’s Plum and Tavern on the Green in New York City, and Shea worked on the institutional side of the food industry at Griffith Laboratories for 30 years. The two became close friends and then business partners, forming the Willis-Shea Group and working together for many years as food consultants.

Shea notes that a dedicated team of volunteers has worked extremely hard to make the garden a reality. Last fall, Nick Bridge of Sam Bridge Nursery & Greenhouses, LLC was on site with a four-man crew and generously donated their time to apply the powdered lime that was contributed free of charge by Oldcastle. At the same time, Willis family members and friends installed the deer fencing donated by Tenax Corporation. Master Gardener Jennifer Jackson from Bartlett Arboretum designed the master plan for the garden, which she presented at the groundbreaking, and Summer Rain is donating the irrigation system. Sam Bridge Nursery will be back shortly to turn the soil, and volunteers will return to continue the planting.

“Growing fresh organic vegetables on site for the residents will promote a greater awareness of fresh produce in a daily diet. It will be an opportunity for staff, family members, and volunteers to spread the message about healthy eating both at home and in the community,” says Shea.

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