The two small green plots sit right outside the office of Nutrition & Food Services Director Eric Sieden at Glen Cove Hospital on Long Island. Sieden, who also oversees food and nutrition services at two other Long Island hospitals—Syosset and Plainview—had noticed the two eight-by-six-foot boxes soon after he took over at Glen Cove at the beginning of last year.
“I noticed it was overgrown with weeds,” he recalls. “It was a jungle in there, but what was crazy was that the strawberries and herbs that were annuals were still growing, though they were overgrown.”
He decided to clean up the overgrowth and nurture the useful plants, which could be used in patient meals to add a dose of total freshness, especially from the herbs.
Now, one box is dedicated to growing herbs while the other produces various fruits and vegetables.
Sieden loves what the garden plots add to his menus but beyond that, “it was a huge employee engagement piece. We had people from every department helping with the cleanup of it,” along with members of the broader community.
Those community members as well as hospital staffers continue to maintain the garden plots.
Basil, which “grows like wildfire” as long as it gets enough water and sun, is a bumper crop from the garden that regularly shows up in retail and patient dishes, along with other herbs like parsley and cilantro.
Strawberries also grow well in the garden plot. Sieden says the Glen Cove area, on Long Island’s northern tip off Long Island Sound, has a great climate during the summer for certain crops. “We haven’t started grapes yet, but we might be able to pull that off at some point,” he says.
The garden-grown products get mention on menus and menu boards. The herbs are obviously a lot more prevalent, while the other, slower growing crops like tomatoes and strawberries get highlighted if they are part of a mix like a salad or smoothie.
Those are really there to fill more of a symbolic role, but Long Island-grown produce from area farms is a regular on Glen Cove menus from about March through about October.
Later this year, Sieden is looking for get more fall-type items like squash before the weather shuts the operation down. Down the line, he may add a few more beds as there is space, though how much sun they get will be an issue.
The two garden boxes originated a dozen or so years ago and thrived for a time, producing crops like tomatoes, basil, rosemary and strawberries that were incorporated into cafeteria meals. They fell into neglect some time afterward until Sieden rediscovered them last year.
The 172-licensed-bed Glen Cove Hospital offers its patients a spoken menu ambassador service to take meal orders.
Since Sieden took over in early 2016, the hospital’s Press Ganey meal service patient satisfaction scores have jumped significantly, with the number of respondents giving the highest score (5 of 5) going from 31 to 40 percent.
“A lot of that is also due to our emphasis on antibiotic-free meats and local produce, which includes what we feature from our garden,” Sieden offers.
Retail options include a main cafeteria and a coffee shop, the former featuring grill, steam table, a big grab-and-go space, a large carving station and a made-to-order salad station.
Sieden favors the made-to-order approach to salads over the traditional make-it-yourself salad bar despite the increased labor.
“From a sanitation and service standpoint, it’s much better,” he says.
That salad station is where garden crops like the strawberries tend to wind up, featured on the day’s composed salad selection that is an alternative to the design-your-own option.
The beef and chicken are both antibiotic-free and the fish is line-caught and not farmed, for both retail and patient dining.
“All the fish we serve is sustainable,” Sieden emphasizes.
The cafeteria also promotes meal bundles designated by the Northwell organization of which Glen Cove is an outlet, each of which is under 700 calories and meet certain targets in terms of fat, sodium, fiber content and so forth. These are also priced to be a value choice to encourage participation.
The cafeteria is open for breakfast and lunch during the week, while the coffee shop is open seven days.