All ecosystems on Earth are interconnected—if one ecosystem is affected in one part of the world, it can have a ripple effect in other parts of the world.
We are beginning to see our bodies as a microcosm of this principle as well. It is no longer enough to treat the symptoms of one isolated bodily system. We are now seeing that we must look at the body and its health holistically, because all systems are interconnected.
There is now a new trend emerging out of this mindset—organic farms on site at hospitals that provide fresh, healthy food for their patients.
Preventing Illness through Healthy Eating
What we eat impacts every system in our bodies, and is a logical place to start when thinking about holistic health. But food trends in the United States point to a deficit in healthy eating.
Just as the average side of fries from McDonald’s has grown substantially since the 1950s, so has the average American waistline. Obesity related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes are the cause of one in five deaths in the United States and cost U.S. residents between $147 to $210 billion dollars a year. Instead of using this money for medical care, people could spend it on nutritious food. This would ultimately save them money and improve their quality of life through better health.
Easier access to junk food, especially for children, as well as a lack of education regarding how to eat a balanced diet is a major cause of this epidemic, which is occurring around the world. Food deserts—defined as geographic areas where there is a lack of healthy food options within reasonable travel distance—are especially common in the U.S. among people of lower income. This results in people living in poverty having the most health problems because it’s hardest for them to access and afford healthy food.
A recent report found that the United States could save lives and money by investing more in preventative health care. For example, Trust for America’s Health found that community-based programs aimed at improving citizen’s lifestyles, could save the government $5.60 on Medicare/Medicaid expenses for every dollar spent. A large component of this would be more education in schools for people in grades K-12 around healthy food choices and making these options more accessible for the general public.
A Paradigm Shift Beginning in Healthcare
Some medical establishments are now leading by example and running their own organic farms. These farms provide food for their patients and are an educational tool that shows the benefits of a balanced diet full of organic fruits and vegetables. The hospital is also sending their patients home with information packets about the benefits of an organic, plant-based diet with the hopes that eating healthy takes place beyond the hospital as well.
St. Luke’s hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is leading the way in this movement through their partnership with the Rodale Institute, an organization that conducts environmental research. The Rodale Institute has helped them build a 500-acre farm on their property. Thanks to this collaboration, St. Luke’s now has their own organic farm, and collaborates with other groups in an effort to make wholesome, locally grown food more widely available.
St. Luke’s is also sending some of their produce home with new parents and incorporating some of it into the menu at the cafeteria. They hope that this will set a good example for patients when they return to their day-to-day lives.
Other Hospital Farms
Other hospitals throughout the U.S. have incorporated these farms into their campuses as well. Stony Brook University Hospital in Long Island, New York, for example has a rooftop garden where they grow heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and other herbs and vegetables for their patients. One challenge that some doctors have faced is that patients want comfort food when they’re sick and those who are used to snacking on processed snacks that are high in sugar, fat, and salt, often reject leafy greens. The sickest patients also tend to be on strict diets with food that must be computer coded. So far there is no way to code produce from the farm. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs at Stony Brook are hopeful that as their farm expands and they find new recipes, their movement will gain success.
The Farm-to-Healthcare Initiative
Out of the growing need for increased nutritional education, the Farm-to-Healthcare Initiative has emerged. This program is a collaboration between the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) and Health Care Without Harm (HCWH). HCWH believes that it is the social responsibility of medical centers to provide their patients with food that will improve their health, not worsen it. They aim to bring healthier and more sustainable food to hospital cafeterias by getting hospital to sign a pledge vowing to increase the nutritional quality and sustainability for their food.
Island Hospital in Washington has been one of the first medical institutions to sign the Healthy Food in Healthcare pledge, put forward by the Farm-to-Health-Care Initiative. Signing this pledge means that they’ve promised to commit to serving healthier local and sustainable foods. HCWH hopes that as more medical institutions recognize the benefits of using proper nutrition as a means of preventative health care, all hospitals will sign this pledge.
A Global Shift in Consciousness
Hospital farms are a demonstration of a more general shift in consciousness geared towards a more holistic perspective for improving the health of all people. Shifting one's diet towards a nutritious and healthy one is an important step to taking care of our body's interconnected system. As this movement continues to grow, healthy, sustainable, and local food will likely become more accessible to the general public.
To learn more about interconnectedness and how we can apply this concept to ourselves and the world for a better future, check out our downloadable e-guide, "All My Relations," written by Pachamama Alliance co-founder and best-selling author John Perkins.