A Greenhouse Helps Grow a Vision; Initiative Leads Other Hospital Healthy Food Efforts

January 1, 2013

by Diane Atwood

diane-atwoodOn the banks of a picturesque pond in the backyard of Henry Ford West Bloomfield (MI) Hospital sits a 1,500-square-foot greenhouse. The $1 million facility, which was funded by an anonymous donor, officially opened in September. It supplies organic produce for patient meals, an in-house café that is open to the public, and a weekly farmers’ market. Hospital leaders estimate that growing their own produce will reduce food costs by about $35,000 a year.

While perhaps not the first greenhouse operated by a health care facility in the country, it may be the only hospital-based, certified-organic hydroponic green-house. Hydroponic means plants are not grown in soil, but in water or a medium such as coconut coir, which comes from the brown husk that surrounds a coconut shell. Among other benefits, it allows for faster growth in a smaller space and eliminates weeds and almost all pests.

This past June, Michelle Lutz, West Bloomfield’s resident farmer, planted the first seeds. Within 30 days she was harvesting about 27 different varieties of produce – from tomatoes and kale to basil and cilantro, and even strawberries.

“Anytime food service is working on a new menu or new recipes, it contacts us to ask which ingredients we can supply and how much,” says Lutz. “We can also do custom growing. The kitchen is my first priority. This morning, for instance, we harvested tomatoes and basil and greens. There is a location in the cooler that is dedicated for just greenhouse produce. I email staff to let them know what we brought in.”

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