CoxHealth and Springfield Community Gardens are working together to cultivate a healthier community.
A recent grant from the Timken Foundation will allow Amanda Belle’s Farm to establish breeding houses and a vegetable packing facility. The farm, located near Cox South, currently supplies employees (and sometimes the cafeteria’s salad bar) with fresh produce, according to Jesse Baedke, system director of food services with CoxHealth.
But physical health isn’t the only thing the farm aims to strengthen: Maile Auterson, founding executive director for SCG, sees it as a path to healing social ills as well as building a better future.
“We’re surrounded by persistent poverty, counties that are struggling with food insecurity. To me, that’s a travesty, because my father grew up and lived to be 100 years old, and he said, ‘During the (Great) Depression, we we all used to eat like kings, so I’m like, why aren’t we eating now?” Auterson said. “We need to restore our food system, the local food system to make us resilient and provide equality when it comes to eating “.
Laying down strong roots for a sustainable local food system
The grant will fund two projects that help lay the groundwork for Amanda Belle’s farm to become a model for area producers: vegetable propagation and packaging.
This winter, Baedke and Auterson plan to certify the site Good agricultural processesa program through the United States Department of Agriculture that ensures produce is grown, packaged, handled and stored in a way that minimizes the risk of food safety hazards.
This certification will allow the farm – named after its parent hospital, Lester E. Cox – to distribute its produce more widely and help more people.
“One thing we know in food production, what we’ve learned, is that we want our food local and we can’t have a local food system, we can’t feed schools and hospitals and institutions and train farmers. if we don’t have the knowledge to package vegetables safely and we have the infrastructure,” Auterson said.
Propagation houses will allow the farm to become self-sufficient, rather than relying on other locations to start seedlings.
“This will allow us to double our production by having a support house on site,” Auterson said. “What we were doing in the past was, like, kicking out plants from another garden and putting them in the ground here. For our farm, we’re really big on slowing carbon emissions. It’s been one of our strategic plans to have the sites be self-sufficient.”
The hospital aims to instill habits that improve health
Once the farm receives its GAP certification, Baedke hopes the hospital can expand its community-supported agriculture program for patients and those who may be food insecure or unable to easily obtain fresh vegetables.
Through education with dietitians, nutritionists, doctors and nurses, CoxHealth wants to help patients take steps forward in improving their health.
“We intend to start a program that helps our patients learn how to cook, prepare and store fresh produce and incorporate it into their diets so that at the end of the day they become healthier, which which is a win for them, for our community, a win for everybody,” said Baedke.
This approach is one that Auterson sees as particularly important.
“(CoxHealth) wants easier access for low-income patients, but (they) don’t just hand them a box of vegetables and say, ‘Good luck,'” Auterson said. “It’s integrative; they’re building relationships and trust and building healthier diets and how to incorporate that into our diets.”
A study by University of Missouri and Ozarks Food Harvest found that of families using pantries and food banks, 41% have a member with diabetes or prediabetes and 60% have a member with high blood pressure. In the same study, nearly two-thirds of households surveyed said they bought the least expensive food in the past 12 months, even if it wasn’t the healthiest.
or Major risk factor for chronic disease, like diabetes or high blood pressure, is poor nutrition, including diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in saturated fat and sodium. Poor nutrition can also make those diseases worse.
“Our goal, what we hope to see our patient population benefit from from our program, is those improved health outcomes: reduced blood pressure, potentially reduced weight and future risk of chronic disease,” Baedke said. . “It starts at the grassroots, it starts with what our farmers will do, and it starts with what our dietitians and nutritionists do in terms of education, and the doctors and nurses and care providers that support all those programs.”
Education of the next generation
Fresh, local produce isn’t the only thing growing on Amanda Belle’s farm: it’s cultivating the skills that will help the next generation of farmers thrive.
“There are a lot of projects like this in the United States right now, but there are only five hospital farms last time I counted,” Auterson said. “The thing that makes ours different is that we’re training the farmers; we have a hands-on program, a hands-on program.”
Cameron Bigbee, who left a job at Lowes to become “the guy who plants all the food” at Amanda Belle’s Farm, is eager to see how the project will come together. Bigbee is the son of Fassnight Creek Farms owner and operator Dan Bigbee.
“I’m really looking forward to the vision of this being finished. Right now, it’s mostly empty fields, but I can already see three high tunnels there, a wellness center there, a food forest, whatever,” said Bigbee. . “It’s a blank canvas. So it’s really cool to see it develop and be a part of it.”
In addition to training farmers, the project also aims to foster a sense of care for the environment with its sustainable practices, both in the community and in individuals.
“That’s the beauty, is Cox saying yes to this small grassroots organization with the goal of promoting health and agricultural careers for young people, just that holistic approach to being a good steward of the Earth, a good steward of people, a good steward of the community,” Auterson said. “I think that’s what I’m happiest about. I pinch myself sometimes because they are so willing to work with us.”
Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow him on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.