On many days, you can find executive chef Tyson Grant whipping up delicious meals in the kitchen of Parkshore Grill on busy Beach Drive by the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront. But his heart is never far from a special patch of land a mile away at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. It is a beautiful, thriving place that symbolizes life and honors the memory of his baby girl, whose own life ended far too soon when her heart gave out.
Just outside the glass doors of the Johns Hopkins All Children's cafeteria, Zoe's Edible Garden flourishes by a spacious patio with lettuce, cucumbers, banana and lemon trees, herbs and more, all cultivated with a healthy dose of love.
This is where restaurant entrepreneur Grant and wife Sommer keep alive the memory of their infant daughter, Zoe, whose name in Greek fittingly translates into the word "life." She was only 24 days old when she died in April 2009, but thanks to the efforts of her parents and Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, Zoe's memory will forever enrich the lives of others.
That is the magic of the garden. It not only serves as a wonderful memorial to Zoe, but also gives young patients a chance to get outdoors to pick fruits, vegetables and herbs and learn more about healthy foods. And it is a valuable way for kids and grown-ups alike to gain a greater understanding of how to improve their diets organically.
"We want to get the patients downstairs and outside," says Grant.
"We want to have cooking classes for kids, which is what Fit4Allkids is doing now. We've had three or four groups visit and they'll pull different things out of the garden. It may be stuff they've never heard of or eaten before - collard greens or kohlrabi - or familiar items like carrots and radishes. We'll go out there and make different teas with lemon grass and allspice, and squeeze some oranges in."
Instead of sugar, they'll add honey to demonstrate that sweeteners can still be good for you. "There are some amazingly healthy alternatives to lots of sugar," Grant stresses. "That's what a lot of kids don't understand. Things can taste good without loading them up with lots of processed sugar. The kids get into it and the parents do, too. They love it. And hopefully they take the lessons home with them and use it every day."
The roots of Zoe's Edible Garden reach back more than five years. Grant and his wife wanted to find a way to memorialize their baby. They had already done so at Bayfront Medical Center by dedicating a room in her name there. Sitting in the back yard of their house one day, the thought dawned on them: How about something interactive, educational and symbolic of life, like a garden?
It seemed like a perfect idea. At the time, their son, Tanner, was 3 years old and it made sense to start stressing healthy eating and learning where beneficial food comes from for his sake. In addition, Grant himself had already begun eating better as a way of life. "Having a child focused me on it," he explains. "I have to live longer and I want my son to live longer, too. You see it on the news every day - Type 2 diabetes, cancer. There's got to be a connection to the food we're eating, because it wasn't this bad once upon a time."
Zoe's Edible Garden opened in May 2011. As part of the dedication, the family released butterflies, a symbol of Zoe's spirit. And family members, friends, hospital staff and patients all dug their hands into the dirt, planting seeds that would soon blossom.
"It just worked out perfectly, where it's underneath the trellis and everything just came together," Grant says. It's still working wonderfully today - a teaching tool for kids in the community, and a treat for kids in the hospital. "This is a healing garden, but it's even more so because it's actually life that's coming out of the ground," he says, "and that's what it's all about."