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Augusta Health Joins the 'Food Farmacy' Movement

Hospital food gets a bad rap, but Augusta Health in Fishersville is trying to change that. The hospital has harvested roughly 10,000 pounds of fresh produce so far this year from an on-site farm. It’s part of an initiative to improve the quality of food inside the hospital and raise awareness that good nutrition is the best medicine.   WMRA’s Jessie Knadler reports.

It’s a super hot day and farmer Pat Banks walks me around a one-acre farm sandwiched between Augusta Health, a lumber yard and a recycling center in Fishersville.

It’s not the most bucolic setting, but it is very productive.

PAT BANKS:  This is our onions. To our right, this is what we’re harvesting right now -- winter squash, melons. We grow the whole gamut pretty much.

Banks is the farm manager at Augusta Health. The hospital partnered with the Allegheny Mountain Institute, or AMI, to make the farm happen. Sue Erhardt is AMI’s executive director.

SUE ERHARDT:  And our mission is really simple.  It’s to create healthy communities through food and education.

The AMI Farm at Augusta has already yielded 10,000 pounds of produce, 2,000 pounds more than projected.

[fade up cafeteria]

The AMI Farm supplies the hospital with produce for its cafeteria and patient meals.

DOUG PUGH:  Food is medicine.

Doug Pugh is director of Augusta Health’s nutritional services. We met at the hospital’s cafeteria at lunchtime.

PUGH: This is really the trend.  Augusta Health is at the tip of the spear.  We are very proud to be one of the few hospitals in Virginia that are currently doing this.

In fact, Augusta Health is one of the few hospitals in the country with its own on- site farm. Pugh says he would love to get to the point where all produce they serve is grown on-site. They’re already in the process of tripling the size of the farm from one acre to three.

And how is AMI Farm produce? I go through the buffet line to find out. Today’s farm selection: Sauteed zuchini with cherry tomatoes.

JESSIE (at the buffet):  Hi there, can I get some of the delicious looking squash? Uh, yeah, I’ll have some of that sirloin.

I also load up on a bunch of chopped heirloom-looking tomatoes from the salad bar.

JESSIE:   Mm, yum, that’s great.

Travis Foster is chef manager in nutrition services at Augusta Health.

FOSTER:  They sent us … a whole lot of greens.

Foster is the one tasked with figuring out what to do with the thousands of pounds of produce coming in from the farm. It’s a problem familiar to any cook during the harvest.

FOSTER. It’s been a challenge and also fun figuring out ways to cook and get people to eat that much greens… you know, do some research, play around, mess up a couple of recipes, eat a bunch of kale…

The vegetables are also funneled into the hospital’s new Food Farmacy program. It’s a physician referral program for patients with Type 2 Diabetes whose blood glucose is out of the normal range and not being managed. It’s 16 weeks long and includes nutrition education, cooking classes and recipes using the vegetables. Krystal Moyers helped coordinate the project, currently in its ninth week.

KRYSTAL MOYERS :  And already, we’re able to see a drop in people’s weight and waist circumference.

Food Farmacies are popping up all over the country, including in Charlottesville and the New River Valley. It’s part of a move toward more prevention-oriented medicine.

To help make healthy changes stick, participants in the Food Farmacy program receive vouchers for free vegetables from the farm stand right on Augusta’s campus. The farm stand is open every Tuesday afternoon and is open to the public.

Jessie Knadler is the editor and co-founder of Shen Valley Magazine, a quarterly print publication that highlights the entrepreneurial energy of the Shenandoah Valley. She has been reporting off and on for WMRA, and occasionally for National Public Radio, since 2015. Her articles and reporting have appeared everywhere from The Wall Street Journal to Real Simple to The Daily Beast. She is the author of two books, including Rurally Screwed (Berkley), inspired by her popular personal blog of the same name, which she wrote for six years. In her spare time, she teaches Pilates reformer, and is the owner of the equipment-based Pilates studio Speakeasy Pilates in Lexington. She is mom to two incredible daughters, June and Katie. IG: @shenvalleymag