When it comes to feeding its patients fresh fruit and vegetables, Homestead (Fla.) Hospital knows it will live up to its promise. That’s what happens when the garden supplying most of the produce is next door.

A few years ago, Homestead Hospital set aside about 10 acres of land it owned adjacent to the health facility for growing nutritious food for its patients, staff and the community. The Grow2Heal garden, or farm, as Thi Squire, the hospital’s community garden project manager, prefers to call it, potentially can grow 30,000 pounds of produce annually. 

Produce ranges from radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, collard greens, Swiss chard to squash, watermelon, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, green beans and more.

What makes the project even more special is that the food it generates serves to educate patients and the community on the importance of healthful eating through field trips, health fairs, cooking demonstrations, wellness workshops and support groups. 

The project began when Squire learned that Bill Duquette, CEO of Homestead Hospital, part of Baptist Health South Florida, was looking for a way to utilize the formerly weed-infested property adjacent to the hospital for community use. Squire recognized a chance for the hospital to walk the health talk, so to speak. 

“I thought it was a great opportunity to get across the connection of food and nutrition with health care and wellness. I always felt that health and wellness start with good nutrition,” Squire says. 

Duquette liked her idea of growing organic fresh vegetables that could be served to patients to foster their healing and it has evolved from there, says Squire. Her background in nutrition education and urban agriculture made her a natural to run the garden.

Squire explains how the garden is a work in progress and continues to grow as funding and expertise increase at the same time. “This past growing season we were able to harvest 2,500 pounds of produce that either went directly to our kitchen or was used in educational programming at the hospital,” she says. 

While produce is grown on one of the 10 acres now, the plan is to expand its use over time, she says. When the garden is fully developed, it will generate enough produce to serve about 100,000 meals a year. 

“We’re looking at setting an example for our community. We’re walking the talk. We’re not just saying, ‘You need to eat more vegetables.’ We’re showing the community that we’re investing energy and education to improve their lifestyle and to reduce chronic disease,” she says. 

Squire also heads up the educational component of Grow2Heal. She leads field trips called “Grow your Lunch” where young students learn how food is grown and teaches them how to make a tasty, nutritious lunch that they enjoy while at the garden. 

Other programs under development include workshops for those with chronic diseases to learn how to make better food choices and a vegetable prescription program called Fresh Harvest Rx where doctors and clinicians can “prescribe” produce to prevent or help to manage chronic disease, Squire says.

An on-site farmers market also is in the works so that community members can buy fresh, affordable produce, she notes. 

The hospital’s garden is connecting the community to its roots as one of the oldest agricultural areas in Florida. Homestead Hospital opened in 1940, and built a new, larger facility in 2007 on land that was once farmed as potato fields, according to hospital officials.