Food as Medicine: How One Hospital Is Using Organic Produce to Help Heal Patients

08/01/2014 11:57 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

by guest blogger "Coach" Mark Smallwood, Rodale Institute executive director

In 431 BC, Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."

More than 2,500 years later, we are inundated with advertisements boasting the latest, greatest cure-all superdrug. From a young age, we learn that it doesn't matter how or what we eat, there is a quick fix around the corner for whatever ails us--whether we're obese, have high blood pressure, or have bad cholesterol, just to name a few of the issues plaguing our society.

It now seems almost revolutionary to think that we can change our health by changing the food we eat.

But one hospital in Pennsylvania thought just that.

Two weeks ago, Rodale Institute, in partnership with the nearby St. Luke's University Health Network, launched a true farm-to-hospital food program.

The Anderson Campus at St. Luke's has more than 300 acres of farmland, much of which had historically been farmed conventionally to raise crops like corn and soy. The hospital administration recognized the impact that providing fresh, local organic produce could have on patient health and approached Rodale Institute to transition the land to organic and farm vegetables to be used in patient meals and in the cafeteria.

Lynn Trizna, or Farmer Lynn, as she's known around St. Luke's, provides food to all six hospitals within the Network. This year, she's growing five acres of vegetables, with plans to expand to 10 acres in 2015. She estimates about 44,000 pounds of produce from her farm will be served in the hospital just this season. She is paid a salary through Rodale Institute and has employed three staff members, all aspiring farmers.

With a three-year plan in place, Rodale Institute and St. Luke's see the potential for expansion. We envision growing the program to include 15 to 20 farmers--supporting new farmers who don't have access to land; greenhouses that allow for year-round production of produce; and a small-batch cannery, ensuring that we can enjoy the harvest even in the coldest months of winter.

We have created this model in the belief that it can--and should--be replicated at every hospital throughout the United States.

So, the next time you're feeling a bit under the weather, stop and think of Hippocrates' words of wisdom. Maybe you'll look to the garden for a cure, instead of opening the medicine cabinet.

"Coach" Mark Smallwood has been dedicated to environmental sustainability, efficiency, and conservation for decades. Since joining Rodale Institute in December 2010, he has brought heritage livestock back to the institute's 333-acre farm; expanded and enhanced its research efforts; and launched Your 2 Cents, a national campaign to support and promote new organic farmers. In recognition of his sustainability efforts, Coach was chosen as a messenger for Al Gore's Climate Project, presenting to more than 15,000 people on the effects of global warming. Last, but certainly not least, as a longtime organic farmer and biodynamic gardener, Coach has raised chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs and driven a team of oxen.

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