MIAMI (CBSMiami) — One year ago, CBS4’s Miami Proud segment introduced a unique garden program at Baptist Health’s Homestead Hospital called Grow 2 Heal whose mission is to address the epidemic of chronic disease by creating a healthy food environment.

The food planted is harvested to heal hospital patients and serve the neighboring community.

So how is the program doing now during the coronavirus pandemic?

CBS4 first visited in 2019 as a weekly field trip of special needs students from Homestead High School attended.  They received a break from the ordinary with gardening and cooking lessons.

We met Isaiah Carroll, 18, while he was chopping onions and peppers picked on site, for the lunch. He is among the 800 students a year who participated in person. He thrives is in this element, and says he wants to be a chef.

Thi Squire is educator, chef, and full-time farmer as the Community Garden Project Manager of Grow 2 Heal.

Currently, due to the pandemic, those who participate in Grow 2 Heal and cannot attend in person are getting some expertise from Squire online.

She shared a tutorial video in which she deftly preps a pineapple and shows how to grow a new one. (FYI: It takes 18 months to mature, so patience is key!)

The goal is to keep connecting students with information on where food comes from and encouraging healthy eating habits.

“They learn about how food is produced, taste freshly harvested product from the garden heirloom tomatoes of all shapes, sizes, and colors; cucumbers, lettuce, cauliflower, kale, and herbs such as basil oregano, thyme, mint. We have some medicinal items too; turmeric, chamomile, pineapples, anything that wants to grow here that we can eat and nourish us,” Squire said.

One upside to the virtual class is the ability to reach to more students at one time.

“We’ve been experimenting this summer with the process of virtual field trips, working on starting with summer camp,” Squire explains, admitting that this is a work in progress.

Grow 2 Heal has recently expanded to two other Baptist Health system locations, in West Kendall and South Miami hospitals, and a fourth location is planned.

No one knows when the students will return, but the produce continues to be served in the hospitals every day.

Karli Barnett