By Dejan Maksimovic, DO


This will be year three of our garden at UICOMP and, although we’ve had some setbacks dealing with trees, deer, and other small furry creatures, we were still able to donate over 600 pounds of produce to Sophia’s Kitchen. Pretty impressive when you consider most of the work was done by two family docs learning as they grow. Thank you, Dr. Wynn!

As part of a network of community gardens, we were able to donate over 25,000 pounds of produce to local food banks, soup kitchens, and markets. This food went back to the people in the communities we serve and gave them a source of nutritious, locally grown produce. This year, we’re hopeful to get a group of volunteer medical students and clinic staff to ramp up our garden’s production. Our goal for 2022 is to donate over 800 pounds while also expanding access to our students and residents to ease any of their food insecurities. With future expansions, we are hopeful to offer our patients at the Family Medical Center fresh produce during the growing season as well.

If last year taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know when watermelon is ripe, that growing butternut and delicata squash at the same time would create a small forest, and pumpkins will grow in the most random of locations. We’re learning as we grow, literally. This year, we’re hopeful that our more apt garden volunteers will help plan our beds with things like successive seeding and companion planting in mind. We’re also hopeful to get some higher fruit yields from the numerous apple, peach, cherry, and plum trees we’ve planted. If we’re lucky, we’ll even see some persimmon and hazelnuts in the future.

There will be days ahead for group activities including raised bed maintenance, mulching, tree pruning, and maintaining compost piles. We’ll also have a sign-up sheet for students, residents, and clinic staff to help with watering, harvesting, and transporting our donations. The goal is to grow the garden together with the help of the UICOMP community. Eventually, we would love to have an area to teach K-12 students about growing food, nutrition, and maybe have a cooking class along the way.

We’ve reached out to our local soup kitchens and pantries for feedback on what their needs are and have been adjusting what we grow based on those needs. Seeds have been started at the clinic and, thanks to donations from several companies including Hudson Valley, Seed Savers, High Mowing, and Farm and Fleet, we have a large variety of seeds to choose from for the next few years. Future plans include increasing the number of beds we have (and using up the pile of soil and mulch that sits there, sorry UICOMP….), creating a path through the food forest, and coming up with a more permanent solution to our composting needs. These things take time, effort, and donations. We’re thankful to have the backing of UICOMP, UnityPoint Health, and everyone that has been helping grow the garden, together.

About the Author

Dr. Dejan Maksimovic is a faculty member in the Department of Family and Community Medicine.