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VA Hospital rooftop garden makes Syracuse veteran feel at home

 Green vibrant plants sit in pots along the Syracuse VA Medical Center fifth floor terrace.
Matthew Wrigley
Plants grown by the Therapeutic Horticulture Rooftop Garden program.

The top of the downtown Syracuse veterans hospital is a therapeutic oasis for former service member Steve Kasprzycki. That’s where he cultivates his green thumb in a rooftop garden that boasts around 100 plants.

Kasprzycki said the garden allows him to step back and appreciate the small things in life.

“It’s pretty fascinating when you slow down and really look at the little stuff," he said.

The Syracuse VA Medical Center is celebrating 10 years of the garden that launched with SUNY ESF as part of the Veteran Therapeutic Horticulture Rooftop Garden program. It’s designed as an outdoor place for patients in the Community Living Center who are at the hospital long-term.

Becky Ross, chief of the Center for Development and Civil Engagement at the VA, said the garden serves an important purpose.

"This is a therapeutic garden," Ross said. "Every single plant that you see, and there’s gotta be 75 to 100 plants up here right now, every single one has been touched by a veteran. So, that’s why a lot of people come and think, ‘Oh it’s not pretty.’ It’s not supposed to be pretty, it’s supposed to be therapeutic.”

 Fresh packaged vegetables including tomatoes and Mini thumb watermelons sit on a table at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.
Matthew Wrigley
Fresh packaged vegetables made by the Therapeutic Horticulture Rooftop Garden program.

The rooftop garden transformed an empty outdoor space into a place to help patients grow and maintain their own gardens. The program began a decade ago under the direction of Lee Newman, the director of the environmental health major at ESF.

Newman said it’s a great way to give back and show gratitude.

“Having the veterans be able to come up here and enjoy the program, you’re just giving back to people who deserve being helped," Newman said. "The veterans do most of the planting out here, we just assist them with it, but it’s really fantastic.”

Veteran Kasprzycki stays at the Syracuse VA Medical Center and frequently visits the rooftop garden. With the JMA Wireless Dome nearby and other famous Syracuse University buildings in clear sight, Kasprzycki calls the view from the rooftop garden the crown jewels of Syracuse.

 The Syracuse VA Medical Center is multiple stories and made of brick.
Matthew Wrigley
The Syracuse VA Medical Center located at 800 Irving Ave.

Kasprzycki left Buffalo and came to the Syracuse VA for long-term care. He said he’s felt well supported at the facility.

“The intentions of VA, or their goal, is so different from private medicine I feel," Kasprzycki said. "Nobody’s gonna let you stay in a hospital for a year."

The Therapeutic Horticulture Rooftop Garden is where Kasprzycki participates in home-away-from-home activities. He said he enjoys working with the SUNY ESF students who help support the site, but joked that they shouldn’t try to overtake the gardening duties too much.

Matt Wrigley comes from Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, and is pursuing his Broadcast and Digital Journalism degree at Newhouse. His goal is to be a beat writer for a Philadelphia sports team or a broadcaster for NBC/NBC Sports. This semester at WAER, he's looking forward to gaining confidence with interviews and improving his news writing.