Healthy Farms Mean Healthy Communities

by Vivianne Swart, Dietetic Intern Summer 2016

Healthy Communities

In recent years there has been a movement to increase urban farming, and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital System is right on trend. Although most people think of farming as a distant activity done out in the country, small plots of land that are used well can provide food for communities through farmer’s markets or places like Food Gatherers, as food rescue and food bank program serving Washtenaw County, Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. With an employee population of around 5500 people and 550 beds, SJMHS is like a small city in and of itself. In order to increase sustainability, continue innovation, and increase community engagement, the farm was born. The operation continues to grow and change, but one constant is the contribution to wellness for patients, staff, interns, and volunteers.

While people who have worked with the farm can tell you about how great it is and how nice it feels to really connect with food, scientific evidence also backs up their claims. Spending time in nature has been shown to improve emotional wellbeing and relieve stress, increase positive mood, enhance life skills, reduce mental fatigue, and increase concentration. Some studies have suggested that gardeners have a higher life satisfaction and rate their health and physical activity levels higher than non-gardeners; additionally, gardening and related activities have also been linked to improved levels of social, physical, and occupation wellness. In partnership with some area public schools, students have had the opportunity to visit the farm here at SJMHS, which research has linked with improved behavior, encouraging curiosity, engagement, focused learning, and mindfulness. And hospital staff are getting benefits too – research says that offering opportunities for wellness for employees can reduce direct and indirect health care costs and absence; avoid illness or injury; and improve the quality of work life and morale.

But what about farms like the one at SJMHS that are in more densely populated areas? A large piece of research found that green spaces like those found around SJMHS can decrease stress, and that working with nature around you (such as with farming) will increase physical activity levels and stamina, lower chances of heart disease, and make you happier! Through having the farm located right in Ypsilanti, it makes these fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs much more accessible to everyone in the community.

Feeling inspired? Want to experience the farm for yourself? We would love for you to support our farm! Stop by the farmer’s market near the main entrance of SJMHS Wednesdays 11am-1pm, volunteer your time, or spread the word about us.

About Vivianne:

Vivianne Swart is a dietetic intern from the University of Michigan, who spent a week at the farm as a rotation. She has her MPH from the University of Michigan and is a part-time yoga instructor. She is excited to bring her knowledge about sustainability and farming to her profession in nutrition!

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