Milwaukee VA Medical Center
New garden box offers therapeutic benefits
There’s much more to a new planter and bench outside the Spinal Cord Injury Center than meets the eye.
Besides being an aesthetic addition near the front doors, it’s also a therapeutic tool and a symbol of a partnership between the center and a nonprofit group working to better the lives of disabled Veterans.
The garden box was donated by Adaptive Works, a Franksville-based organization that seeks to involve Veterans in sustainable work projects, including farming and carpentry.
“We want to help increase the quality of life for Veterans in some way,” said Greg Grueneberg, co-founder of Adaptive Works and a registered nurse at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center.
Grueneberg and Kevin Mutschler built the garden box as a prototype, based on suggestions from Michael Thomas, a U.S. Army Veteran who has been in a wheelchair for 23 years. It features a raised garden bed flanked on two sides by benches.
Grueneberg said the design is intended to be handicapped-accessible.
“The whole idea is to bring the ground up,” he said. “It’s easy to transfer from a wheelchair to the bench, and you have the second bench for supplies. Paralyzed Veterans can use it to have therapy with gardening.”
Erinn Kulba, a recreation therapist in the SCI center, said the bench helps “create programming that focuses on all the therapeutic benefits of gardening and therapies to help Veterans stay active.
“It touches on a new leisure-based skill that has been gaining some momentum with the spinal cord injury team, and I think this will take it another step further.”
Kulba said gardening has many therapeutic benefits for disabled Veterans, such as:
- Honing of fine motor skills.
- Developing healthy meals and recipes based on the produce grown.
- Working on community reintegration skills.
Kulba noted that the donation also establishes a new community partner for SCI.
“We can use Adaptive Works as an opportunity to encapsulate all the therapies and everyone working together to benefit the Veteans’ overall quality of life,” she said.
“There can be great carryover from inpatient to outpatient. We can include our rehab patients. So every Veteran we serve can be impacted positively.”
Founded in 2017, Adaptive Works is located on a 5-acre farm owned by Grueneberg and his wife. Four of those acres are devoted to the organization, which began its mission with Adaptive Farms, which grows micro-greens and other produce – including corn, radishes, grapes, tomatoes and cucumbers -- that are sold to area restaurants.
With Mutschler’s help, the organization has a barn and is constructing facilities that are both eco-friendly and handicapped-accessible.
The second program, Adaptive Carpentry, seeks to get disabled Veterans involved in carpentry projects.
“We’re looking to some of the paralyzed Veterans at the Spinal Cord Injury unit to see if they’d like to come out and build more of these benches and see what the Adaptive Farms part is all about,” Grueneberg said.
“If we can really make this successful, it would be really rewarding to transfer skills and knowledge to our Veterans,” said Mutschler, who isn’t a Veteran but comes from a family filled with Veterans, including his parents, his son and his son-in-law.
“I never served, so for me, it’s a chance to give back,” he said. “This is my service.”
Thomas, who receives care through the SCI, is also a co-founder of Adaptive Works. He said participating in Adaptive Works’ programs has been “some of the best therapy” he has had.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s all good things.”
For more information on Adaptive Works, go to www.adaptiveworks.org.