Organic farming specialists from Michigan State University helped St. Joseph Mercy nutritionists and facility managers construct the hoop house – a dome structure made of pipe and visqueen – and plans to build a second one in July. At the end of the project, St. Joseph Mercy plans to have 12 hoop houses and a fruit orchard on the campus. When the farm yields its first harvest later this summer, the produce will be included in hospital food and sold at a farmer’s market on campus. Additional produce will be donated to Food Gatherers of Washtenaw County. A century ago, farmers plowed the same ground and raised crops where St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor’s 364 acre campus is today. On April 14, a horse-drawn plow tilled a four-acre plot within view of two new patient towers St. Joseph Mercy’s main campus.
“We are excited to be able to use the land in its original form.” said Rob Casalou, president and CEO of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, Saline and Livingston. “We plan to cultivate as many as 64 acres over the next few years. As the farmland expands, we will integrate the vegetables grown on our land to the cafeteria and patient menus.” To start, the hoop house and garden will grow vegetables including tomatoes, basil, broccoli, lettuce and peppers. Dan Bair, a local farmer contracted by St. Joe’s, will tend to the land and run a farmer’s market, initially set to be held two days a week at the hospital. St. Joseph Mercy is a member of Health Care Without Harm, a global coalition dedicated to promoting the health of people and the environment. Before embarking on the farmland project, St. Joseph Mercy dieticians started providing nutritional information on food choices, added more healthy meal options, and converted to a two-season menu to bring in more of the freshest and healthiest regional and local products. “When it comes to healthy eating, one of the most difficult aspects for people is finding quality produce at reasonable cost,” said Lisa McDowell, Registered Dietitian, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. “We get many consultation requests from patients hoping to lose weight and begin living healthier lifestyles. Opening a farmer’s market featuring home-grown produce is a great way to enhance the healthy eating habits of people in our community.” “The hospital is not just a place where people go and get fixed; it’s a community resource providing the information, programs and services people need to lead healthier and happier lives,” Casalou said.