Behind Augusta Health, a 1.1 acre farm was planted in early 2018 to feed Augusta Health patients and educate the community about healthy eating. With the connection between healthy eating and good health widely accepted, it made sense for Augusta Health, built on farmland, to return to its roots and re-establish the farmland for the health of the community.
The AMI Farm at Augusta Health, a partnership between Allegheny Mountain Institute and Augusta Health, was created in response to the hospital’s 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), in which the community identified nutrition and physical activity as a top priority need.
“[The farm is] a balance between educating people about produce they may not be familiar with,” said Krystal Moyers, Augusta Health’s Director of Community Outreach, and providing fruits and vegetables to be used in Augusta Health’s food system, as well as for educational programming.
Fruits and vegetables delivered to Augusta Health’s food system are used in the cafeteria, in patients’ meals and for special catering events. In patient meals, one variety of tomato cannot be substituted for another, due to specific dietary needs of the patients.
“So, we want to make sure we have enough of those more common vegetables to be utilized by nutrition services but then for our educational programming, we want to be sure that we’re presenting folks with options that they may not be familiar with, and educating them about the nutrient value of the food,” Moyers said.
Examples of unfamiliar produce for some patients and community members include kohlrabi, varieties of kale, turnips, and fennel.
The AMI Farm at Augusta Health has a dual purpose of providing produce, but also educating the community.
“We want to make sure that for any vegetable that we are sharing with nutrition services, but also with the public, they have all the tools they need to use it confidently,” said Grayson Shelor, education coordinator for the farm. Educational programs offered through the farm partnership share nutrition content with the community, as well as demonstrate ways to cook the vegetables.
The AMI Farm at Augusta Health is planted on the old Yoder family farm behind the Augusta Community Care Building off Mule Academy Road, and has grown in its possibilities.
This year, a high tunnel was built “that extends the growing season,” Moyers said. The high tunnel is enabling AMI and Augusta Health to grow certain vegetables year round.
According to Shelor, the tunnel is similar to a greenhouse, and “captures ambient heat instead of being heated electrically or through gas.” The high tunnel warms the soil for vegetables to grow.
“So we can start crops earlier in the spring, keep them happy later into the fall, and in the summer we can take advantage of it to grow things that love heat like tomatoes and eggplants and cucumbers,” said Shelor.
In February, the farm was able to grow carrots and spinach. Shelor said the high tunnel made it possible for the farm to have tomatoes earlier this year than they would normally be available.
AMI and Sodexo, Augusta Health’s food services management team, work together and have “seed meetings” before each growing season, according to Moyers, to plan which vegetables to plant each year. The two groups take into account which vegetables would be best for the hospital’s cafeteria and food catering services, as well as demonstrations for educational programs.
Shelor said the vegetables are harvested every Tuesday and Thursday.
One of the partnership’s educational programs is a prescription produce Food Farmacy program. The Food Farmacy is a 12-week long program for referred patients with chronic disease diagnoses. . Each session, Shelor said, combines nutrition education with a demonstration by the Sodexo chefs, using food freshly harvested from the farm. Food Farmacy participants are also given access to a no-cost farm stand.
Community classes include last month’s “Introduction to Fermentation,”
“It was a really great way to unite some vegetable-specific challenges, like what do you do when you have 200 pounds of cabbage, with some flavor knowledge of how to make sauerkraut,” Shelor said.
Foods that provide health protection, such as sauerkraut were explored in the community class, which was co-taught by AMI’s farm manager and an Augusta Health gastroenterologist, Dr. Savita Srivastava.
“So it was a really powerful way to unite a lot of our different goals for the farm,” Shelor said of the educational program. “Producing great food, helping people to use it well, and connecting that to how it can be so important for becoming a healthier person and having a healthier lifestyle.”
So far in 2019, Shelor said AMI has reached 3,000 individuals with educational outreach about healthy eating. The goal for 2019 is to reach 5,000 community members. In 2018, 15,500 pounds of vegetables were produced, and more than 7,000 pounds has been harvested so far this year. This year, AMI has plans for 45 different crops. Multiple varieties of several crops are grown at the farm, including 16 varieties of tomatoes and 17 varieties of lettuce.
Moyers said that thanks to the high tunnel extending the farm’s growing season, the farm is on track to surpass last year’s 15,500 pounds in 2019.
Shelor said the farm’s education programs have been shared at Augusta County Library and taken into local schools and summer camps.
The second cohort of the Food Farmacy will also be taken off campus, Moyers said, to Churchville, where a need was identified through Augusta Health’s 2016 CHNA. The assessment identified Churchville as an area experiencing food insecurity.
Shelor said AMI holds a community farm stand every Tuesday in Augusta Health’s main lobby from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and provides the community the opportunity to buy fresh from the farm through donations.
Shelor said she has been surprised about “which vegetables have really been embraced by the community.”
“We have a real force of people who love Swiss chard,” Shelor said.
Moyers said she has been most surprised by how excited community members get when they learn about the farm. She said to her that means the project is “on the right track to meet a need in the community.”
Another indicator of the project’s success is receiving requests from outside the region for information about the AMI Farm at Augusta Health, and how other communities can duplicate the project.
The AMI Farm at Augusta Health has the potential to become a regional model for increasing health and informing the public about healthy eating.
“That’s really what we hope for the project. We know that our whole community is going to be better if we increase our vegetable intake,” Shelor said.
The farm project will continue its educational programs and simply encouraging the community with “eat your veggies.”
The AMI Farm at Augusta Health welcomes volunteers to help collect produce each week. If interested, contact Grace Grattan at email@example.com, or call (540) 886-0160.
Prediabetic and diabetic patients are encouraged to have their physician refer them to the Food Farmacy for diabetes education.