This is part of Food Management's new Community program, which highlights the ways onsite operators are lending a helping hand in their communities.
Onsite farms and gardens have become pervasive in onsite dining circles, ranging from small plots where a few herbs and veggies are grown as a showcase of the department’s interest in fresh production, to full-fledged multi-acre fields that turn out thousands of pounds of produce annually for use both in the kitchen and as a form of outreach to the larger community.
This kind of outreach is particularly needful in food desert areas where populations—usually urban, poor and lacking access to, or even basic knowledge of, fresh produce—suffer from a variety of diet-related ills such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
The Delema Deaver Garden produces a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for donation to Lankenau patients. (Photo: Lankenau Medical Center)
One institution that has used its agricultural resources to benefit an immediately adjacent outside community is Lankenau Medical Center in Pennsylvania. Lankenau has a fairly unique geographic setting as it is situated on the edge of Montgomery County, which is not just one of the state’s healthiest counties but one of the wealthiest in the nation. Directly next door is the border of Philadelphia County, which includes the city of Philadelphia and is ranked as the state’s least healthy, with a significant proportion of its population living in poverty.
Next to Lankenau’s helipad is a strong symbol of the hospital’s commitment to serving its economically disadvantaged neighbors: a half-acre plot of greenery that (at least during the warmer months) is replete with a cornucopia of cherries, herbs, corn, squash, tomatoes and a couple of dozen other fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Opened on Earth Day 2016 in a former parking lot area, the green space is a combination of education, promotion and practicality as well as an attractive place for staff and visitors, and even some patients, to find some quiet time as it is directly adjacent to the hospital cafeteria.
The garden’s bounty, which currently consists of about 30 different organic fruits and vegetables, is all given away free to patients through hospital-affiliated primary care and OB-GYN practices to help alleviate the chronic challenge of access to fresh product for many in the adjacent Philadelphia County communities.
Lankenau’s culinary staff assist this endeavor by developing simple recipes utilizing the fresh product that is being given away and participating in demonstrations of those recipes.
The Delema Deaver Garden is both a source of fresh product and a place to stroll and relax as it is only a few steps from the medical center cafeteria. (Photo: Lankenau Medical Center)
“We want to elevate the conversation,” says Chinwe Onyekere, associate administrator at Lankenau, about the hospital’s garden-based outreach. “This farm is the manifestation of our commitment to how we can address the food access and food insecurity needs of our patients while at the same time elevating the conversation around nutrition and the link between food and health.”
The hospital also puts on a pop-up farmers’ market with produce from Deaver Garden right in the community room of the primary care practice. “It’s right when you get your blood pressure and vitals done,” Onyekere notes. “Once that’s done, the medical assistant asks you if you would like to take some of an array of 15 or 16 different produce items before you go in to see the physician, who now has this ‘hook’ to talk about the importance of healthy eating as it relates to health.”
There are also cooking demo pop-ups in waiting rooms where some of the vegetables from the farm are prepared. Demos are also put on in in-patient units to show patients, especially those suffering from diet-related ailments, how to prepare healthier meals.
Outreach through the Deaver Garden is also extended to area youngsters through a health education center where up to 10,000 K-12 students come annually to tour the garden, watch presentations and engage in activities focused on the crops being grown.