The newly established community garden at SECU Family House honors the legacy of the late Zeny Datiles, who was a dietician at UNC Hospitals, and provides a healthy respite — and fresh vegetables — for patients and their families.

From the left, Meredith Moyers, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, a nutrition specialist at UNC Lineberger and co-founder of the garden, with a SECU Family House staff member and Jennifer Spring, RD, CSO, LDN, who is also a nutrition specialist at UNC Lineberger.
Beets are among the vegetables being grown in the garden.

Zeny Datiles had a passion for nutrition. As a dietician at UNC Hospitals, she helped others for years to lead the healthiest lives they could. Her time was cut short after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away. However, her legacy lives on in the SECU Family House oncology community garden.

After her death, Datiles’ husband, Ulda, started “Zeny’s Garden,” a fund that helped establish a lending library in UNC Lineberger’s Patient and Family Resource Center as well as sponsored the annual March nutrition luncheon. This year, in honor of the ten-year anniversary of the Zeny’s Garden fund and Ulda’s donations, a real “Zeny’s Garden” was established at the SECU Family House.

This community garden aims to promote the plant-based diet recommended for cancer patients and teach nutritional values to the UNC Hospitals community as a whole.

“It brings patients and caregivers outside and back to the earth to learn first-hand the benefits of growing and eating your own food,” says Meredith Moyers, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, a nutrition specialist at UNC Lineberger and co-founder of the garden. “Research shows that if you grow your own fruits and vegetables you are more likely to actually eat them.”

The American Institute of Cancer Research recommends eating five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Moyers uses a lot of the produce in her educational sessions, during which she offers cooking demonstrations and taste testing. SECU Family House guests are invited to use the produce, and many enjoy going out to the garden and picking produce themselves to use in cooking.

Access to fresh produce is not the only benefit that comes out of the garden. Moyers says research suggests gardening can help alleviate physical symptoms of cancer, such as bone pain from treatments. The light exercise can keep patients active, a key component of managing cancer symptoms. Gardening has also been shown to ease depression and anxiety.

“It gives the patients and their families a break,” says Janice McAdams, executive director of the SECU Family House. “Guests get in the van in the morning, and you can feel the stress building as they spend their day at the hospital either as patients or as caregivers. To come back and be able to spend time in a garden, which is like what many of them have at home, it just feels good. They sit in a rocking chair, they look at the garden, and they talk to people in the garden. It just feels comfortable for them to be able to decompress.”

McAdams says the garden is a work in progress and the house guests are intrigued. She hopes to continue growing new crops in the space as well to add more gardens. Educational programs have begun such as “Art in the Garden,” an art class Moyers leads in the garden. The Family House also plans on starting regular healthy cooking classes in the fall using the garden’s produce.

Written by Katie Nash

Media Contact: Bill Schaller,, 919-962-3405