ANDERSON — Sitting on more than 40 acres at the edge of the city’s border, Community Hospital Anderson is taking advantage of its rural location to become the first hospital in the state with an in-ground farm on its campus.
“We are the third hospital in the state to undertake growing food for community on this type of scale,” said Christine Davies, farm project coordinator for Community Hospital. “We are using the farm as a tool to educate people.”
Community Hospital has moved beyond telling its patients to eat better with brochures and lectures to a more hands-on approach, said Davies. This year they plan on educating patients with produce grown and harvested from the Community Farm and incorporated into a healthy diet.
Davies said the farm, which is half an acre in size and located on a two-acre plot, will be the first of its kind in the state.
“We want the produce from the farm to go into our kitchen so it is more accessible to our employees and our patients and for it to go directly to outpatients," she said. "Then we want to work with the community to act as an access point for the community at large as well.”
The hospital has registered with the Indiana State Department of Health as a wholesale grower and has written a produce safety plan detailing how certain agricultural practices will be implemented in order to produce safe food. Approval of the registration is pending.
“Down the road, we want this to become a destination for the community where people can come to learn and engage with where their food is coming from,” Davies said. “It’s like a preventative measure for health and wellness outreach.”
She said the two other hospitals that grow food for communities are the Eskanazi Sky Farm, located on the hospital’s rooftop in Indianapolis, and the Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper which established Hope Garden, an off-site project that grows food for food pantries.
The idea for the farm followed the creation of an employee garden in 2016 and is funded through the Community Hospital Anderson Foundation, Davies said.
“The farm, though, is more into a venture of reaching out to the community,” she said.
Davies said she plans to plant more than 8,000 plants this year including 3,000 transplanted cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers and onions in addition to flowers. More than 5,000 cucumbers, summer squash, winter squash, cantaloupe, beans, popcorn, beets and flowers will be grown from seed.
“More than two-thirds of the growing space will be dedicated to vegetables,” she said.
Total yields can vary depending on weather conditions, soil and a variety of other factors, but Davies said the Community Farm can produce more than 200 pounds of produce a week during the summer.
“Since this is the first year, we don’t have all the infrastructure out there yet, so we are kind of starting without putting the infrastructure out there right away,” she said. “All the things we are growing are easy to manage and aren’t really demanding for harvest.”
Davies said they also want to offer cooking demonstrations and other resources to patients so they are not simply hearing from doctors that they need to eat healthy, but they can see how it is done.
“A lot of people live in apartments and think they can’t grow food, but I think — to some degree — people think they can’t grow food and they might have a situation where they could,” she said. “We are making that part of our education.”
Michele Hockwalt, a marketing and communications manager at Community Hospital Anderson, said the hospital has big plans for the produce grown on its farm. She said the idea of sending patients home with a basket of fresh produce, along with recipes on how to prepare dishes with the fruits and vegetables, is not far-fetched.
“We want to help teach people how to grow their own food,” she said. “And we can teach people how that impacts their health and to eat more fruits and vegetables.”