FISHERSVILLE — Augusta Health is taking “eat your veggies” to a new level.
As part of a new “farm-to-table” program underscoring its promotion of healthy, nutritious eating, the hospital, in a partnership with Allegheny Mountain Institute, last week began planting vegetables on an acre of its land.
The site, part of the old Yoder family farm, is located behind the Augusta Community Care Building off Mule Academy Road. The farm still looks very much like it did when it was a working farm, with a large barn, a silo, main house and now, crops, gracing the property.
The vegetables grown on the hospital land — which Augusta Health officials describe as some of the most fertile in the county — will provide h ealthy food for the hospital and the community, and for nutrition education as well.
Krystal Moyers, community outreach manager for Augusta Health, said that from the hospital’s 2016 community health needs assessment survey, “nutrition and physical activity, diabetes and mental health were identified as our top three priority areas to address.”
No. 1 was nutrition and physical activity.
Augusta Health convened a committee of experts in the community on nutrition education and access to healthy foods.
“And of the ideas that came out of that was starting a farm on Augusta Health campus,” Moyers said.
The board of directors of the Community Partnership Committee of Augusta Health determined that “the best partner to help us realize the goal of helping to provide people with greater access to healthy foods, as well as education about and increased knowledge about what healthy foods are” was Allegheny Mountain Institute, which is based on the Augusta Health campus.
Sue Erhardt, executive director of AMI, said the project will actually have two parts of production in three phases. In phase 1, which just began, AMI hopes 9,000 pounds of food will be grown on one acre on campus, while ¼ to ½ of an acre will be designated for education and a demonstration gardens. The vegetables will be grown under organic and sustainability practices. Pesticides will not be used.
Erhardt said that for the first three years of the project, AMI hopes to reach ages 3 to 83 with education about healthy eating with the demonstration garden and with nutrition programs conducted out in the community.
“We want to work with everybody and talk about how to have a healthier lifestyle and greater well being,” Erhardt said.
In phase 2, for the fourth and fifth years of the project, another acre will be dedicated to production and ¼ of an acre for education. And phase 3 will be conducted in the last four years of the project with another acre of production.
More than 30 vegetables will be planted, according to Erhardt, including cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, peas, squash, spinach and lettuce.
Moyers said that Augusta Health will refer a number of its patients with diabetes to the hospital’s Food Pharmacy Program for 16 weeks. Twenty participants will be chosen for the pilot program.
“They will receive nutrition education from our providers and other education specialists in the hospital about how to eat healthy and the purpose of eating healthy,” Moyers said. AMI will provide information about preserving fresh food and how to grow your own garden.
Participants in the program will receive voucher coupons to obtain produce from the hospital’s farm.
The farm will also provide produce for daily Augusta Health patient meals and food in the hospital’s cafeteria.
Moyers said cooking demonstrations will be held in the Food Pharmacy to show participants how to store and cook raw foods like vegetables.
“Because then when they get this beautiful produce with their vouchers, we want them to feel empowered to do something with [the food], and then when the program ends, to have that knowledge to carry it over to really make it a lifestyle change,” Moyers said.
She added that the hope is to “see an overall impact in the health of the community through the farm.”
“The goal is we’re having a wide variety of vegetables because to have a healthy life and well being you need to have a large variety of vegetables in your life,” Erhardt said.