As plant-based nutrition rises to the forefront in the field of preventative medicine, hospitals are starting to give food the attention it deserves. Rather than the jello-and-gruel cliche that's been sitcom fodder for decades, facilities across the country are focusing on fruits and veggies as a healing tool.
Baptist Health South Florida's Homestead Hospital (975 Baptist Way, Homestead), for one, is stepping up its nutrition game with the Grow2Heal community garden.
"In efforts to address our community’s socioeconomic issues, we dedicated 10 acres of vacant land adjacent to the hospital to develop an organic garden as a bold, innovative attempt to offer our community preventative health through fresh, nutritious foods," says Thi Squire, the garden's project manager. "We feel that our garden shows that there is no greater loving action than to feed and nourish our community."
The plot is designed to help foster proper nutrition and educate the community about healthier living. It lives on land owned by the hospital, and features fruits, vegetables, herbs, fruit trees, and native flowers — all organic and sustainably grown.
The garden also serves as a venue for educational workshops through a platform called "Grow Your Lunch." K-12 kids visit the garden and take part in activities like transplanting, soil prep, and weeding. "To further the experience, students harvest and learn how to make a delicious, fresh, non-processed and nutritious lunch that they eat on-site, which helps foster a greater connection to their environment," adds Squire.
In its first year, the garden hosted over 750 students through Grow Your Lunch, as well as served patients and staff over 700 pounds of tasty produce. Food from the garden makes its way onto patient plates and into the hospital cafeteria. The team also grows sunflowers to perk up patient rooms; hosts non-profit orgs for healthy meals; and offers a “pantry starter kit” that helps diabetic patients learn to cook fresh food from scratch. "We are utilizing our garden in all creative outreach capacities because there is a direct correlation between healthy living and health status," says Squire.
Study after study has shown that a diet heavy on fruits and veggies is key to preventing and managing chronic health issues like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Getting ahead of these conditions is the idea behind Grow2Heal.
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The garden has many long-term goals, including growing produce to help heal patients; increasing educational programs for patients and the community; creating green space for therapeutic use; and designing a vegetable prescription program that allows patients to receive a “prescription" for produce — among others.
Eventually, Squire and team hope to offer a farmers market that would accept food stamps and vegetable prescriptions, as well as launch Cook4Health classes where patients and community members will learn about the importance of eating fresh, healthy foods. "The goal is for individuals to understand that food is the first form of medicine that humans consumed and that our health outcomes can be directly related to what we consume," she explains.
In other words — you are what you eat.
"We know that if we strategically invest in our community core and integrate the care delivery system, we can improve the health of our community and ultimately reduce the cost of healthcare."