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Monday, August 25, 2014

More U.S. Hospitals Using Organic Produce Gardens for Recovery

Heather Callaghan

In an age where food is thought of as "filler" and of little importance in the recovery process, some hospitals are turning that idea on its head by embracing local organic food for recovery and beyond.

Recently, Rodale Institute partnered up with St. Luke's University Health Network in Pennsylvania to bring the local organic farm to the hospital platter. 

Perhaps the term "hospital cuisine" will now take on a truer, less sarcastic meaning. Like, maybe it will be easier to "stomach" by not appearing already digested. But seriously folks...

St Luke's Anderson Campus has 300 acres of farmland which used to sprout typical ag crops like corn and soy, EcoWatch reports. Not so anymore, as the hospital administration fully realized the holistic impact of not only providing "organic" (which can be vague) but also the fresh-factor of local and importance of soil health. Thus, Rodale was asked to start transforming the plot to foster organic vegetables, not only to revitalize hospital patients, but also provide for the cafeteria.

It's a three-year plan with hopes of expansion, hiring more farmers including those without access to their own land, building greenhouses for year-round production, and utilizing a small batch cannery for winter meals. 

EcoWatch shared the mindset of this system:
We have created this model with the belief that it can, and should, be replicated at every hospital throughout the U.S.
But St. Luke's isn't the first to try this seemingly revolutionary idea. Awhile back, the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in the Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield made headlines for opening the first-of-its-kind million dollar 1,500 square-foot greenhouse and garden. It provides food and therapeutic benefits to patients and doubles as field trips, workshops and kitchen demonstrations to help people when they return home. The hydroponics-based greenhouse is projected to save the hospital $20,000 on food costs alone.

Likewise, in 2006, Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, IL committed to serving 100% organic, made-from-scratch fresh meals, even introducing cultural meals for added comfort. While they may have abandoned that commitment, as I cannot ascertain that info from their site, they stand by disease-prevention and answer the call to wellness with a giant fitness center, employing nutritionists. It's turning its focus on cannabis dispensing as a form of medicine.

Hudson Valley Hospital Center in New York sponsors its own farmers market as part of its Seeds for Health and Harvest for Health programs aimed at disease prevention and speedy recovery.

While Johns Hopkins Medicine Center finds it to be a myth that non-organic produce could lead to a recurrence of breast cancer, they encourage patients to eat organic whenever possible, eliminate processed foods and offer customized nutritional plans that go far beyond the typical prescription of "eat healthier and exercise more."

The cost of St. Luke's model is unclear, but showing that it is easy to replicate using local partnerships is important for teaching and spreading the idea of its use. Perhaps it will encourage hospitals that tried and failed to polish their approach. 

Healing gardens are now recognized for treating emotional health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with great success. Gardens even just for their beauty have an impact on patient care. But imagine if every part of these inbound farming systems were utilized for recovery. Patients immersing themselves in the garden as much as possible, benefiting from the edible plantation, rooftop gardens for the hospital and so on... Imagine the stress and burden of the hospital system melting away as overburdening ceases and both staff and patients' nutritional needs are met.

Michelle Lutz had these views in mind when she wrote this op-ed piece about all the extending benefits of organic farms partnering with hospitals. That's why plans like these could be multi-functional and go beyond simply organic. Of course, that would leave other partners like McD's and bottom-of-the-barrel cheap food companies quaking at the thought!

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook. 

Recent posts by Heather Callaghan:

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