While a healthy diet has always been considered necessary for overall wellness, historically, many hospitals have overlooked its powerful potential for healing. In some areas, that’s beginning to change. In Pennsylvania four years ago, St. Luke’s Hospital partnered with Rodale Institute to start an organic produce farm at the hospital’s campus in Easton. Since its first season, the St. Luke’s farm has expanded to grow 100 fruit and vegetable cultivars on 11-1⁄2 acres.
Today, St. Luke’s sends all new mothers home with a basket of organic produce. New moms aren’t the only ones benefiting from the farm’s bounty, which is also served to patients, cooked up in cafeterias operated by the hospital’s six-campus network, and sold at nearby farmers markets.
Hospital farms are part of a broader movement to make organic, locally produced food accessible to the general population. Some hospitals are making it a priority to source food from nearby farms, while others are turning unused land on their grounds into community gardens. By making organic produce easily accessible to the patients and visitors alike, these hospitals hope to inspire lifelong changes for better health. Even though most hospital farms aren’t growing enough to completely supply their staff and patient food needs, providing even a small amount of fresh produce makes an educational statement about how healthy (and delicious) a plant-rich diet can be.
While the farm-to-hospital movement continues to gain traction, it’s encountering some challenges along the way. For one, health workers don’t necessarily know how to grow food. This means that most hospitals need to hire a full-time farmer and other farm labor to manage the property, which can be expensive. It takes between 3 and 5 years for most hospital farms to break even, much less save money on food costs. Nonetheless, participating hospitals believe that the benefits are worthwhile. As the movement continues to expand, you might soon experience a farm-fresh meal at a hospital near you.