“These are pretty awesome goals to reach for,” says Jamie Bourgo, also a member of the Keweenaw green team. “One of the biggest things I enjoy about the program is working for an organization that cares about the health in its communities—not just within our hospitals.” Though each location’s team has considerable license to determine their facility’s needs, one foundational decision Aspirus corporate made was to utilize hydroponic gardens, enabling year-‘round production. The company chose the Flex Farm, a scalable, indoor, vertical hydroponic technology made by Wisconsin company Fork Farms. But beyond that common hydroponic concept, each hospital is free to determine what to grow and how to run with the program.
“Next, we want to try tomatoes and cucumber,” Jenson notes. In addition to salads, the romaine is also used for hamburger day, and the Keweenaw green team is growing parsley they plan to use to garnish patient food trays. Though the hydroponic systems require an equipment investment, no extra staff are needed to tend them. The green team has a Vertical Garden Subcommittee (which includes Jenson and Bourgo), and each member maintains the gardens at their respective locations. “It really takes very little time,” says Jenson. “It’s maybe an hour on average per week for each
garden at each hospital. Harvest days may take two hours, but on a daily basis, checking on the pH and nutrient levels just takes a couple minutes.” The kitchen staff rolls prep of the produce into their daily routine for cafeteria foodservice, and the subcommittee members bag up dishes that are given out beyond the dining room walls. Serenity Now The benefits of implementing the gardens extend beyond sustainability and nutritious dining. At Aspirus Keweenaw the hydroponic garden is publicly visible in the
cafeteria. At Iron River, it is in the cafeteria, as well, while at Ironwood the garden is located in the “Serenity Room,” a space created during the pandemic—where staff can decompress while hearing water flow in the garden and enjoy the garden’s bright, vibrant colors and herbal fragrances, with soothing music. These relaxing effects, Jenson says, are a reason Fork Farms also supplies hydroponic gardens to schools, where students also get an education in sustainable healthy food production just as Aspirus patients and staff do.
Babylon hydroponic micro-farm grows in Central Lynchburg General Hospital cafeteria
“We have the support and backing of the Sustainability Oversight Committee at the system level,” Jenson says. A New Leaf In the infancy of the hydroponic initiative, each hospital started simple, growing leaf lettuce before transitioning into romaine lettuce and herbs, some spring mix and kale and parsley.
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