Gardens sprout up at Brooks Memorial Hospital

Brooks Memorial Hospital staff members are promoting healthy eating in their cafeteria by growing produce and herbs in on-site gardens and networking with local farmers. Since June, the hospital’s Wellness Committee has been working with “Creating Healthy Places To Live, Work, and Play,” a New York State initiative to improve the health and physical activity status for local communities.

Theresa Schrantz, LPN and Employee Health Supervisor at Brooks Memorial Hospital, said she heard about other places obtaining grants for gardens and thought it would be a great way for the hospital to promote healthy eating. The hospital received a grant for two outside table gardens and an inside herb garden through Creating Healthy Places and the NYS Department of Health

The hospital received all that was needed to get them started – two garden table tops, rain barrels, composters, plants, seeds, grow lights, soil, and planters. The Wellness Committee planted the gardens, and the kitchen staff and Wellness Committee maintain them. The table top gardens consisted of a variety of lettuces, spinach, green beans, cucumbers, butternut squash, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beets, and rutabaga. The herb garden consists of oregano, tarragon, thyme, marjoram, chives, Italian basil, purple basil, cinnamon basil and parsley. The Wellness Committee is hoping to eventually add cilantro to the list of herbs.

“Fresh is always the best way to get the maximum vitamins and nutrients from your food,” says Carey Skelton, Chief Clinical Dietitian at Brooks Memorial Hospital. “Our role in health care is to model to the community how to incorporate fresh produce into our daily diets. Growing vegetables and herbs, or stopping by your local farmers markets are great ways to do just that!”

The kitchen staff is being taught how to use the fresh produce and herbs in the preparation of meals by Skelton. Many of the garden’s vegetables, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, are being used in the cafeteria salad bar and soups. Rather than using salt to season foods, the cafeteria is increasing the use of fresh herbs.

The Wellness Committee did not stop at growing gardens. In July, they decided to start a farmer’s market near the hospital. Richard Feinen of Feinen Farms sells produce for employees, visitors, and the community every Friday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feinen will continue to come to the hospital every Friday until the first frost.

Dr. Jon Muntz, a radiologist at Brooks Memorial Hospital, is on board with these projects. A friend of Dr. Muntz, Henry Rohman, donated 400 pounds of potatoes, 200 red and 200 white, to the hospital. Those are also being used in soups, and were recently used during “Greek Day” in the cafeteria.

Jack Pasquale, Director of Nutritional Services, said the kitchen staff welcomes the changes. “It is fun to get to use something in our food preparation that we created in our kitchen,” said Pasquale. “The staff has taken ownership and pride in it.”