Organic Farm-to-Hospital Program Eyes Menu Expansion

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“Sometimes, I might get 50 pounds of something and go, ‘Never mind what I had on the menu, this is way better. Let’s do that instead.’”

Patients, employees, and the community have responded enthusiastically.

“People are impressed that we’ve invested in it, we’ve got such a big farm, and that a lot of things from the kitchen are from the farm,” says Ed Nawrocki, president of the Anderson Campus.

DeLeva says that St. Luke’s as a whole embraces making meals from scratch as much as possible, avoiding deep fryers, and using minimally processed food. The organic produce right on the hospitals’ doorsteps have introduced more people to chemical-free, fresh, clean food.

“You’d be surprised by how many seniors have told me that they never had organic produce. Now they buy it at their own grocery stores,” says DeLeva, whose patients at the Anderson Campus are mostly 65 and older.

“I have a nice senior at nighttime who comes to me and gives me little status reports or updates from eating her healthy meals at night. ‘I lost 10 pounds’, ‘my blood pressure’s down five points,’ you know? And to me, that’s everything.”

Despite the bounty, the organic farming partnership is a money-losing enterprise.

It takes a lot of labor to tend to 100 crops, grow as much as 100,000 pounds of produce annually, and distribute them to 12 hospitals. And incorporating the perishable ingredients into the menu is time consuming. The chefs, for example, must dice, wash, and dry the produce — time they don’t need to spend with pre-packaged vegetables.

Still, “We think it’s a good investment. It’s good for the community, good for the environment,” Nawrocki says.

The payoffs come in other ways, too. Nawrocki says the presence of an organic farm on hospital property helps attract new residents and fellows and generates favorable coverage of St. Luke’s and the Rodale Institute on social media and the press.

Aslynn Parzanese, interim farm manager at the St. Luke’s-Rodale Institute Organic Farm, applauds St. Luke’s commitment to preventive health. “The hospital is prioritizing healthy foods, rather than prioritizing what could be considered convenient,” she says. “And I think that that is amazing and needs to be kind of universal. I think that hospitals all over could potentially have gardens or even farms like this.”

This fall, St. Luke’s and Rodale are aiming to expand the menu offering. The partnership is in the midst of hiring a fruit farmer. The goal is to start with strawberries and raspberries in the upcoming season, then expand to blueberries and blackberries.

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