Farm at St. Joe’s builds community by promoting fresh air, exercise, good health

Produce is shown in the farmer's market at St. Joseph Mercy Health System. The produce is grown on a 364-acre farm on the hospital's Ann Arbor, Mich., campus. (Courtesy Catholic Health Association)

Produce is shown in the farmer’s market at St. Joseph Mercy Health System. The produce is grown on a 364-acre farm on the hospital’s Ann Arbor, Mich., campus. (Courtesy Catholic Health Association)

Not many hospitals have a farm.

But St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich., does.

The hospital’s 364-acre on-campus farm gives patients, veterans, students and a few other folks the chance to grow organic vegetables, learn about nutrition and get some fresh air.

The Catholic Health Association honored the hospital June 3 for its innovative approach to healing and wellness with its 2013 Achievement Citation, presented during CHA’s annual assembly in Anaheim, Calif. The award honors innovation and creativity. CHA said the farm fits the hospital’s core values and mission “to heal body, mind and spirit, to improve the health of our communities and to steward the resources entrusted to us.”

CHA’s Catholic Health World magazine has chronicled the work and ministry of the farm. The vegetables and greens produced by the farm find their way to patient meals and the hospital’s Market Café, formerly the cafeteria. Fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers are offered for sale at a farmers’ market inside the hospital.

Anyone can work on the farm, even those confined to bed. Some vegetables are planted in elevated beds for those who cannot squat or bend to reach the ground.

Betsy Taylor’s article says the farm operates year-round with a manager and two additional paid employees and a crew of volunteers. Vegetables are grown during all four seasons thanks to three hoop houses that capture the sun’s energy to keep the plants inside from freezing.

Much of the rest of the hospital campus has been transformed as well. Alfalfa and natural meadows surround the facilities, eliminating financial and ecological costs of a carefully landscaped and maintained lawn.

The award may just inspire other facilities, hospitals, colleges and universities and office parks to consider moving into this ecologically friendly direction.

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