Grantee Spotlight

Sprouting A Passion for Health: A Doctor’s Waiting-Room Garden Joins Buffalo Clinic

At Niagara Street Pediatrics, there is no wait for kids to start a healthier lifestyle – even in the waiting room.

Patients at the Buffalo clinic are greeted when they walk in the door by a bountiful, fully functioning garden, right alongside the waiting area chairs, couch, and bulletin board. Its produce ready to pick, the garden comes complete with a how-to gardening guide and seedlings patients can take home to, hopefully, harvest their own passion for healthy eating.

“When patients come to their visit … anyone can pick some lettuce, or basil, or tomatoes, or peppers and take them home,” said Dr. Sarah Ventre, a general pediatrician who launched the garden as her practice improvement project with United Hospital Fund’s Pediatrics for an Equitable Developmental Start (PEDS) Learning Network Fellowship. “I think we have been successful in making families more interested in gardening.”

Studies show that kids and families exposed to gardening are more likely to have an interest in eating vegetables, a healthy habit that Dr. Ventre says the young patients she sees each day can struggle to form.

The waiting-room garden and a new weekly farmer’s market at Niagara Street Pediatrics are the result of Dr. Ventre’s mission to change that. Both new additions were made possible through essential collaborations with local community groups Grassroots Gardens WNY, who helped with the garden, and Buffalo Go Green, the operator of the farmer’s market.

In just the first eight months of the “Buffalo Sprouts” project, nearly 700 patients interacted with the garden and hundreds of patients, staff, and community members brought home produce from the farmer’s market, many using $6 vouchers provided through the Buffalo Go Green partnership.

Those benefits to the community, Dr. Ventre said, would not have been possible without the PEDS fellowship, which provides mentors, professional development resources, and a financial stipend to each participant in the 15-month program.

“The PEDS Learning Network was instrumental in making Buffalo sprouts a reality,” Dr. Ventre said. “They helped provide support, guidance, mentorship, and financial support that made me feel like this could be possible in a clinical setting.”

The fellowship was launched in 2020 to help change makers reimagine pediatric care in a way that reduces childhood health inequities. It is part of UHF’s Pediatrics for an Equitable Developmental Start (PEDS) Learning Network, which is funded by a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation. During the program, each fellow, like Dr. Ventre, is tasked with leading an equity-focused, child health project in their workplace.

“Indeed, it takes a village to create and sustain lasting impacts for children and their families, but it also often takes one individual—one change agent—to mobilize community partners and clinic staff,” UHF senior program manager Susan Olivera, who oversees the PEDS Learning Network, said of Dr. Ventre’s project.

“As a result, there is a delightful sight in the corner of the waiting room, sweetened by the aroma of fresh herbs beckoning to be harvested by little hands.”