Hospital farms provide patients with fresh, nutritious food

Patients at St. Luke's University Hospital in Pennsylvania not only receive quality medical care at the facility. They also receive fresh, nutritious food courtesy of the hospital's farm.

The farm, located on the hospital's Anderson campus in Easton, Pennsylvania, allows the organization to provide healthy meals to inpatients and also send new mothers home with a basket of fresh produce, recipes and literature about the importance of a healthy diet. St. Luke's partnered with Rodale Institute, a leader in organic agriculture research, to create the farm, which just celebrated its first anniversary, according to an article at treehugger.com.

"Our mission is to provide great healthcare and part of that is educating patients about the benefits of a plant-based, organic diet," said Ed Nawrocki, president of St. Luke's Anderson campus. "One of the best ways to do that is to lead by example and show them how delicious produce grown on our farm tastes."

This year the farm will double in size from five to 10 acres, increase types of produce from 12 to 30 varieties, produce more than 45,000 pounds of vegetables and provide the hospital cafeteria with fresh food to feed patients, the report said. A weekly farmer's market allows staff, patients and visitors to purchase fresh produce.

Hospital onsite farming may become the 'next big thing" in healthcare reform, according to a Civil Eats article, which notes many hospitals find the farms help improve food on patients' trays. Stony Brook University Hospital on Long Island, Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin, and St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital in Michigan use produce grown onsite to replace packaged fruits and vegetables. Others, like the University of Wisconsin Hospital, buy produce from local farms or allow land on their campuses to be used for community gardens.

There are, however, challenges to introducing fresh, local produce into hospital food service. Hospitals specialize in healthcare, not agriculture. At St. Luke's it was expensive to start the farm and it won't break even until at least 2016, according to the article. Growing organic produce is more expensive than purchasing it through a foodservice supplier or getting it from local farms.

In addition, the use of fresh produce requires a shift in the way food is prepared in the hospital cafeteria. Food staff may have to learn new cooking techniques rather than heating prepared foods. Cooking with fresh foods is also more labor extensive because it involves peeling and chopping rather than opening a package.

To learn more:
- read the article on St. Luke's farm
- check out the report on Civil Eats

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