Ginger McKinnon had a vision.
Kidney dialysis is hard enough. Why not ease the burden a little by starting an organic garden?
McKinnon’s idea was to grow “renal-friendly” fruits and vegetables, and do it right on the grounds where patients get their treatments.
It took about a month for McKinnon, a manager at Puget Sound Kidney Centers’ Arlington office, to organize the effort: ordering the materials for raised beds, and rounding up volunteers, including kidney center staff, to help with the planting.
A former kidney center patient chipped in, too. Eric Jacobson, 53, endured 12-hour days of dialysis, and understands why good nutrition is especially important for these patients.
So he asked the 11-year- olds on the soccer team he coaches to help out. A dozen kids (and their parents) answered the call, showing up at 7 on a recent morning to help plant.
“Those boys jumped right in and were ready to do whatever they could do to get it going,” McKinnon said.
One of the soccer players, Shawn Hawkins, said he particularly enjoyed the feeling of working on a project that was helping the community. “And bonding with my teammates,” he said.
Thanks to all the help, the project was completed in two hours, much more quickly than expected.
The garden consists of two 3-foot-by-5-foot raised beds. They’re filled with produce such as eggplant, squash, zucchini, blueberries, peppers, strawberries, carrots, peas, onions, cabbage and several types of lettuce. There also is a selection of herbs: rosemary, thyme, basil and mint.
McKinnon brought in tomato starts from her home garden.
“I’ve (harvested) four batches already of all the herbs,” she said. “Several peppers. The tomatoes are on there, but they’re not ripe. The peas are coming up. The squash has blooms on it. The blueberries are getting picked.”
The fresh produce helps patients eat healthfully on a tight budget. Many can’t work while they’re undergoing treatment.
And to add flavor to their meals, patients and their spouses have been snipping off herbs at the garden. Using herbs helps kidney patients cut back on blood pressure-raising salt.
Kidney patients worry about fruits or vegetables because some contain high potassium levels that can cause serious health problems for those undergoing dialysis.
The garden’s fruits and vegetables were selected with this in mind — hence, its “renal-friendly” nickname.
Word of the garden’s popularity has spread throughout the kidney center organization. The Anacortes clinic plans to start a garden soon. The Mountlake Terrace clinic will follow suit, likely next year, McKinnon said.
Now, back to Eric Jacobson. He’s a former dialysis patient because in May 2018, after 18 months of dialysis, he received a kidney transplant from a living donor — a friend from high school.
Now, helping with the garden and coaching the boys soccer team are just two ways he enjoys giving back to others.
And Shawn Hawkins, the soccer player who helped plant the garden, sounded surprised when told that some patients already are benefitting from what’s growing there. He said he hasn’t gotten a chance to go back and take a look himself.
“That’s wonderful to hear,” Shawn said. “I’d like to visit it sometime.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org