Team planting a tree

Rooted in Purpose
Story 33

A leader’s legacy provides new life to a community project at Adventist Health Hanford.

By Kirsten Cutler

“JR Rafoth was a genius gardener and was able to make all things grow.”

JR Rafoth

Laurie Taggart, Patient Care Executive at Adventist Health Central Valley Network, remembers fondly that JR spent hours of his free time working in the Greenfield Community Garden located adjacent to the campus of Adventist Health Hanford, where he served as Director of Nutritional Services. JR would not only lovingly tend to his numerous planting beds but would donate his prolific produce to the local soup kitchen.

“My first time with JR was in the garden,” recalls his friend and colleague Greg Fischer. “In October of 2015 he came up from L.A. as a well-known chef with over 40 years of experience. At that time, I just needed to be a sponge and learn everything there was to know from him.”

JR shared his homemade fertilizer recipe with Greg, who continues to use this special formula and remembers his friend warmly whenever he does. “Gardening was his thing,” says Greg. “There's no question, that's what made him tick.”

“JR Rafoth was a genius gardener and was able to make all things grow.”
Overgrown garden beds

After JR died unexpectedly in September 2020, his legacy gave new life to the garden project through Greg’s passion as well as that of his director, Larry Jones, who had taken interest in the garden in early 2020.

“I drove by the Greenfield Garden every day,” Larry recalls. “I saw that it was overgrown and it looked like it needed some TLC.” Larry started cleaning up the garden with his family in his free time.

“By the end of 2020, a completely new vision and direction for the garden was being formed,” Larry explains. “We felt inspired to continue JR’s legacy of growing food for the less fortunate in our community of Hanford. Our plan was to convert the majority of the community garden for Adventist Health to grow fruits and veggies for the soup kitchen and potentially other food insecure community members, too.” 

Garden beds with plants

The 15,000-square-foot Greenfield Community Garden – named for its location on Greenfield Avenue – has 35 planting beds, some of which are rented by local residents and the remainder of which are maintained by volunteers, including many Adventist Health team members and leaders.

“We planned to create a space that wasn’t just a garden, but a place where employees and community gardeners and their families could come to enjoy,” Larry says.

In January 2021, Larry and Greg created a charter for the JR Rafoth Charity Garden Club, and it was approved by the executive team at Adventist Health Hanford.

“We invited directors and senior leaders to join the club and help clean up the garden and restore it to its former glory,” Larry recalls.We’ve had our director and executives out there at 6 a.m. working in the garden, digging weeds, hauling wheelbarrows and raking.” 

“By the end of 2020, a completely new vision and direction for the garden was being formed.”
Team planting a tree

On April 1, 2021, the JR Rafoth Charity Garden Club held a ceremony to honor JR by planting a fig tree in the garden with a plaque commemorating his life. “His wife, Cindi, was there too,” Larry shares. “She told us that JR planted a fig tree in every house they lived in, and it was his favorite tree. The tree is already producing figs.”

So far this year, the Garden Club has donated over 300 yellow summer squash, over 1,700 tomatoes, 125 zucchinis, over 450 bell peppers, nearly 200 Armenian cucumbers, nearly 440 jalapenos, over 340 eggplants and much more to the local soup kitchen. “For such a small garden, we’re putting out a tremendous yield,” Greg Fischer says. The space has also undergone a major facelift, with the addition of 100 tons of decomposed granite along pathways, upgraded gazeboes and new furniture.

Fresh produce from Greenfield Community Garden

The Greenfield Community Garden project continues to gain interest and support, with other groups of volunteers from the community helping restore and maintain the garden, and suppliers donating resources and supplies.

“We’ve been able to see the influence of God’s hand all along, the entire time since we decided to rededicate the garden to a different purpose,” Larry says. “It just seemed like things just fell in place for this to happen.”