Homestead Hospital’s Grow2Heal Garden Meets Local Needs for Nutrition, Education, and More
Miami-Dade County’s agricultural sector represents nearly $1 billion annually in local economic impact, but many Homestead residents live in poverty. The documented per capita income of Homestead is $11,357 compared to the national average of $21,587. Fifty three percent of Homestead Hospital’s primary service area lives at less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.
Homestead Hospital is committed to providing care to patients whose socioeconomic issues ultimately affect their overall health. The hospital’s recent community health needs assessment identified a variety of health challenges, including diabetes, heart failure, high cholesterol, nutritional deficiencies and sedentary behavior. The city also struggles with low birth weight and has an infant mortality rate quadruple that of Miami-Dade County.
Although Homestead is an agricultural community, many of the crops grown are ornamental and limited fresh produce is available. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified Homestead as a Food Desert, with many individuals and families experiencing extremely high rates of food insecurity. Hospital leadership felt that simply providing instructions on healthy eating would not have an impact on the population in need. In order to make a profound and meaningful change on how and what the community consumes, they stepped up to the challenge by implementing educational and innovative solutions.
Grow2Heal embodies that creative approach and has had a far-reaching impact. The organization dedicated vacant land adjacent to the hospital to develop an organic garden as a way to offer the community preventive health through fresh, nutritious foods.
“Through education, we will effectively change lifestyles that will improve the health of our community.” – CEO Bill Duquette
Homestead Hospital hired Thi Squire, a local farmer with a background in urban agriculture, to design and lead the hospital’s new garden. But the Grow2Heal vision expands well beyond simply growing fruits and vegetables. The garden is based on the concept that preventive health care starts with good nutrition.
- Creating an organic and sustainable garden to grow fresh produce for the benefit of healing our patients from within;
- Increasing educational programs for the community, patients and staff, such as cooking and wellness workshops;
- Cycling food through the hospital and community;
- Providing handicap-accessible green space for therapeutic use (a “healing” trail);
- Implementing a vegetable prescription program that allows patients to receive a “prescription” for produce grown in the hospital’s garden.
The food grown in the garden goes first to patients and the hospital cafeteria. It is also used to educate the community through school field trips, health fairs, cooking demonstrations and support groups. In addition, the Grow2Heal initiative produces hundreds of sunflowers that brighten the rooms of admitted patients; hosts events for non-profit groups by providing fresh and nutritious meals to participants; and offers a “pantry starter kit” that helps patients, such as diabetics, jump start their efforts to cook wholesome meals from scratch. As the farm expands and production increases, the hospital hopes to offer a farmers market that would accept food stamps and vegetable prescriptions.
“Grow2Heal is a creative way to ensure adequate nutrition by increasing access to healthy, fresh food.” – CEO Bill Duquette
School field trips to the farm provide opportunities to teach children about food, cooking, and basic life skills. Rather than talking about where tomatoes come from in the classroom, students can now plant, harvest and cook first-hand with fresh produce. Since the program began in 2014, Grow2Heal has hosted 13 field trips with over 500 students for their Grow Your Lunch program, the majority of which are from Title 1 schools.
The hospital’s start-up costs were roughly $180,000, but the project is partially funded by grants. The hospital team firmly believes in the project and its ability to meet the needs of the community, educate people on the right way to eat and manage chronic disease, and change the course of health and nutrition for generations to come