Thrive by IU Health

August 10, 2023

Cancer center garden feeds stomachs and hearts

IU Health North Hospital

Cancer center garden feeds stomachs and hearts

By Emma Avila,, writer for IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region

Team members grow produce and herbs in a garden at the IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center to benefit patients.

Ann Bredensteiner, manager of integrative health and volunteers at the IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center in Carmel, doesn’t garden at home. She’s learned everything she knows about caring for plants at work, in the garden she now tends to for cancer patients. Ginger Rice, cancer center volunteer and master gardener, taught Bredensteiner the skills necessary to help the plants flourish.

The idea started as a farm-to-table option for a cooking class the cancer center offers. Bredensteiner originally pictured the greenery on the roof of the building, but she found out that was not a structurally sound option. After meeting with the Facilities team, they decided to create a space outside the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center bistro.

Cancer center garden

“It was a collaborative idea,” Bredensteiner explained. “It’s nice to be able to share the bounty with patients.”

And that’s exactly what she does. For extra produce or food items that won’t last until the once-a-month cooking class, Bredensteiner offers them to patients.

She washes the items off, puts them in a basket and leaves them with a note, telling people to take what they would like. If she has some extra time, she walks around the departments to see if any infusion or radiation patients are interested.

Patients Andrea Taylor and Jim Fasone receiving food from the garden
Patients Andrea Taylor (left) and Jim Fasone (right)

This leads to a personal connection with the people who come to the facility for care. Bredensteiner even picks up additional gardening tips along the way.

“It’s nice to connect with other people at the hospital who garden,” she said. “It’s a lot of love and a lot of learning.”

The garden contains tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, flowers and a variety of herbs. Bredensteiner tends to the plants at least once a day. Sometimes, fellow team members or patients will stop by outside and strike up a conversation.

Ann Bredensteiner tending to the cancer center garden

“I’ve really appreciated the mindfulness of coming out here and interacting with patients,” Bredensteiner said. “Almost every morning someone stops by and asks about the garden.”

Sarah Dutkevitch, a clinical research nurse, stops by regularly to check on the plants and do a little weeding. Her family has a garden.

“It just makes me happy, seeing the colors, seeing the growth. It’s a live symbol of hope and renewal,” she said.

Sarah Dutkevitch, clinical research nurse
Sarah Dutkevitch, clinical research nurse

“It’s nice to see people excited,” Bredensteiner added. “This is just a labor of love.”

Though the garden began to get fresher food into the monthly cooking class, Bredensteiner is grateful for what it has grown into: a way to form deeper connections with the patients the cancer center was built to serve.

Ann Bredensteiner planting in the garden