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Visioning Sessions | ‘Making the Case’ and Reflections


Figure 19: State-of-the-art Kitchen, Brockville Psychiatric Hospital, 1943 (source: Brockville Psychiatric Hospital Book of Memories 1884-2000)

Historically many hospitals and prison systems grew food on their own land to feed their patients, staff and prisoners. While most of these on-site food growing systems have been dismantled, a measured resurgence of this approach is taking place across North America. But not out of necessity, as was the case in the past. The new approaches to growing food on institutional lands consider a number of more recently identified co-benefits, each of which may be a winning opportunity to shift how food is viewed at institutions.

St. Luke’s University Health Network, Pennsylvania USASt Luke’s University Health Network has an 11.5 acre organic farm located at the Anderson Campus which is a joint initiative with the Rodale Institute. This partnership is in its third year and has enabled St. Luke’s to provide organic produce to patients, staff and visitors at its six campuses. This fresh organic produce is distributed every week in season to all six hospital cafeterias. The patient menu has been re-designed to incorporate fresh, organic produce from the farm and to increase awareness for patients choosing menu options. By providing patients and employees with local grown organic produce, St. Luke’s is showing a commitment to the environment and promoting the health of its patients and the community.

Community partners include the Kellyn Foundation and its mobile farmer’s market, “Eat Real Food Mobile Market.” Kellyn’s new truck, trailer and an industrial-sized cooler is stocked with produce from the organic farm and travels to low income areas in Northampton County where people don’t have access to fresh produce.

There have been numerous studies proving that organic fruits and vegetables offer many advantages over conventionally-grown foods, including increased amounts of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and antioxidants according to Bonnie Colyle, MD, MS, Director of Community Health, St. Luke’s University Health Network.

“From a health perspective, this translates into a reduced incidence of heart disease and some cancers and a lowered risk of common conditions such as cancer, heart disease, allergies and hyperactivity in children,” Dr. Coyle says. “That’s why we feel it is so important to find a way to get our organic produce into the hands of these underprivileged communities.”

Another community partner is the Children’s’ Home of Easton where two work study students have participated as “farmers-in-training” during the summer. The hospital and its farmer see this as an opportunity to expose the next generation to organic farming practices and the many benefits of eating organic fruits and vegetables as well as ensure that the farm continues to flourish well into the future.


Over the course of our project, we have identified a number of potential co-benefits resulting from food grown at institutions, which could be enjoyed by residents, clients, patients, visitors, staff, the institutions, communities, the sector, governments and taxpayers.

The Lankenau Medical Center, Pennsylvania, USA:Just outside of Philadelphia, a local farmer has partnered with the Lankenau Medical Center on a year-round organic garden on the campus of the hospital. The farm area features educational areas, a greenhouse, compost area, vertical gardens and space for herbs, seeds, flowers and fruits as well as a tasting station. The farm will be a hands-on classroom for more than 10,000 students who come to Lankenau for health education. In addition, medical students will tour the farm and take courses related to the role of fresh vegetables and healthy eating in preventive care.

The students collect more than 2,000 pounds of organic produce per year, which goes to Lankenau’s farmers market for patients, visitors and employees, to food banks, and to cooking demonstration classes at the hospital. The garden is a relaxing retreat from the hospital, open to patients, employees and visitors.

See …and

While these benefits have been identified across sectors, it has to be said that the health care sector has been both intrigued by and deeply implicated in this project. While we started with strong health care partners on our team, interest in the potential therapeutic benefits of food production from all sectors pushed the project toward increased collaboration with new health care partners.

The Fresh City / Baka Collaboration ModelIn 2015 Baka Communications Inc. donated the use of the land outside its corporate head office to urban agriculture and grocery delivery business Fresh City. The land will house a 3,000 square foot greenhouse, designed to utilize solar power generation and rainwater capture.

In this unique partnership, produce grown in the greenhouse will be available to the kitchen at the Baka Gallery Cafe (located in the heart of Bloor West Village, Toronto), as well as to Fresh City customers. For Fresh City, this is an excellent opportunity to access growing space, which is exceedingly expensive in Toronto’s real estate market. For the Baka Group of Companies, the partnership is a way to demonstrate commitment to sustainable business practices and contribute to healthy communities, as part of their “Return On Doing Good” guiding principle.

As a result, all of our ‘visioning’ partners were hospitals who identified and were interested to explore the benefits of on-site food production. The following are possible co-benefits when health care institutions choose to grow food on their own lands:

Patient Benefits

  1. Patients may have an improved stay experience and recover faster where the hospital shows a greater attention to healthy food;
  2. Locally grown foods are not transported great distances and keep more of their nutritional value, which is better for the patient;
  3. Freshly made foods may be tastier and more of the food is likely to be eaten by the patients, which is better for patient recovery;
  4. Patients can participate in gardening activities, which has been seen as a benefit particularly to mental health patients;
  5. The garden area provides a healing space for all patients (as well as staff and visitors). The healing benefits relate to physical, cognitive and mental health, as well as skill building and social relations.

Institutional Benefits

  1. Improved patient satisfaction ratings on surveys;
  2. Demonstrated leadership and modeling healthy food behaviour in the community;
  3. Reduced food waste (if more food is eaten by the patients) which results in reduced disposal costs;
  4. Small farming practices that do not use high inputs generally have a lower environmental impact (i.e. lower water usage, less water and air pollution and reduced use of pesticides, antibiotics and synthetic fertilizers);
  5. Opportunity to develop social enterprises to help support patient care programs. These could include: selling food to staff, visitors, other community programs; providing job creation opportunities; offering skills training for patients returning back into the community;
  6. Use of food waste on-site as compost or amendment for food growing areas;
  7. Opportunity to leverage on-site food growing into larger projects or strategic plans (i.e. health care reform, sustainability plans and corporate social responsibility schemes);
  8. Opportunity to forge new community partnerships that build on specific community needs (i.e. partnering with not for profits to distribute food to disadvantaged populations, food banks; enable cooking lessons for discharged patients and community members to build health);
  9. Provide easy access to healthy foods for staff and visitors (i.e. offer CSAs to staff; provide a farmers market; healthy food in the cafeteria);
  10. Improves the resilience of the facility, where food sources are diversified and not totally reliant on importing food long distances;
  11. Improved status in the community leading to possible increased donations to the hospital foundations;
  12. Reduced heat island effect where more trees (such as fruit or nut trees) are planted for food provision;
  13. Possibility of year-round access to fresh foods through on-site greenhouses.
The Queensway Carleton Hospital and the National Capital GreenbeltOn the west edge of Ottawa, the Queensway Carleton Hospital (QCH) sits on 50 acres of Greenbelt land controlled by the National Capital Commission (NCC)—a crown corporation. QCH has one field of approximately 20 acres that runs along the east side of their property, isolated from the campus by access roads. For years they have simply mowed this field. In 2014, through consultations with the NCC, they determined that the field would never be developed, and NCC requested that it be returned to ‘wild’ conditions. By the end of the summer of 2015, QCH was getting comments on the state of the field—unkempt, tall weeds—and it just so happened that at that time, we approached them with the idea of growing food on hospital land.

The field runs beside a large residential area, with an active community association. This timing was fortuitous in a number of other ways: the NCC is looking for flagship projects for its 2067 vision; the NCC is looking to increase the number of community gardens and promote the visibility of their sustainable agriculture mandate on Greenbelt land; and Just Food, which runs a large, city-wide community gardening program and recently signed a long-term lease on the Just Food Farm (on NCC Greenbelt land) is well-positioned to partner on such a project.


Figure 18: Overhead view, Queensway Carleton Hospital (source: googlemaps)

Sector Benefits

  1. Opportunity to provide training and education to the medical community (i.e. medical staff and medical students) to promote the value of healthy foods to increase general health and wellbeing;
  2. Opportunity for the sector to undertake social enterprises to supplement health care funding;
  3. Opportunity for the sector to show leadership for health promotion and sickness prevention using the connection between good health and good nutrition;
  4. Opportunity for the sector to show leadership in promoting actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing resiliency to climate change impacts such as access to food.

Community Benefits

  1. Improved community health where healthy foods are eaten by more people, reducing sickness and demands on the health care system;
  2. Improved community environmental health through reduced use of pesticides, antibiotics and transportation emissions;
  3. Stimulation of farming businesses and knowledge in the community;
  4. Training of new farmers, which is needed to fill the void as farmer retire;
  5. Provision of institutional land for growing food helps address one of the barriers to enabling new farmers to practice their skills;
  6. Potential to better serve the needs of the community through distribution of food to disadvantaged populations, providing food to food banks, enable cooking lessons for community members to build lasting healthy lifestyles;
  7. Generation of new social enterprises that provide community services;
  8. Opportunity for increased biodiversity in permaculture areas;
  9. Opportunity for community members to visit healing areas which grow food on hospital lands, learn how to grow their own food, and prepare and eat healthier foods.
  10. By encouraging local farming there are increased opportunities for the community to increase its resiliency to climate change impacts by reducing the risks in access to food.

Government and Taxpayers

  1. Local food systems contribute fewer greenhouse gases through shorter transportation routes to the end user, and lower storage energy requirements, contributing to lower national greenhouse emissions, enabling national GHG emission targets to be met.

Opportunities to increase health and wellbeing of Canadians, reducing sickness and the need for health care services.

Final Reflections

Interest in food production on public land continues to grow, with schools and universities, health care institutions and seniors residences, community food centres and food banks, as well as public agencies—from conservation authorities to crown corporations—making land available for food production.


Having developed strong working partnerships with numerous institutions over the past four years, Project SOIL is now in a position to advocate for, support and champion institutions and leaders that explore the synergies that spring up through on-site food production. The partnership team continues to build networks to explore relevant research, and seek venues through which to spread the results.

We also remain committed to exploring institutional production as an avenue of collaboration with new and young farmers looking for land and experience, where such an arrangement is possible and mutually beneficial. Our pilot partner projects alone have supported and supplied such connections for community-based groups (Our Farm and Young City Growers at KW Hab), and provided formative experiences for eight students that will continue to shape their lives and community engagement.

Finally, we are encouraged to see that so many institutions—both in Ontario and further afield—are committing resources to food production, understanding that this is an opportunity to move their institution into a leadership position, and initiate a conversation that will resonate throughout their communities.