St. Luke’s, Rodale team up to grow organic food

By - Last modified: July 18, 2014 at 10:09 AM

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Sarah Bennethum, a farmer at St. Luke’s and Rodale Institute’s new organic farm next to the Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township, checks the progress of the cabbage row.
Sarah Bennethum, a farmer at St. Luke’s and Rodale Institute’s new organic farm next to the Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township, checks the progress of the cabbage row. - (Photo By Brian Pedersen)

Employees, patients and visitors at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus now have access to organic fruits and vegetables that are grown, literally, just outside their door.

Rodale Institute in Kutztown joined forces with St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township to establish a five-acre organic produce farm on hospital land, with future plans to double the farm’s size and replicate the local food-production model throughout the region.

Thursday, officials from both organizations disclosed their plans during a media announcement at the farm adjacent to the 500-acre Anderson Campus.

“It’s an exciting idea,” said Ed Nawrocki, president of the Anderson Campus. “Not many hospitals have an organic farm on their property. We are providing about 44,000 pounds of produce this year.”

The food will be distributed to all six St. Luke’s hospitals in the network, Nawrocki said.

In today’s fast-paced, technology laden world, people have lost touch with real food, said Dr. Bonnie Coyle, medical director of community health for St. Luke’s.

“It’s starting to take a toll on our health,” Coyle said. “Numerous studies prove that organic fruits and vegetables offer many advantages over conventionally grown foods.”

Most produce travels seven to 14 days before it hits grocery store shelves, she added.

“When you have locally produced food, you eliminate that gap,” Coyle said. “It’s a great way to support our local economy.”

ALL-WOMAN FARM

Rodale Institute, which has a large organic farm in Kutztown, provided St. Luke’s University Health Network with Lynn Trizna, an on-site organic vegetable farmer.

She began planting in May and is in charge of ensuring produce quality, following organic farming practices and coordinating the produce deliveries with Sodexo Inc., the company that preps and cooks the food for St. Luke’s hospitals. Some of the crops are just starting to be offered to St. Luke’s employees, patients and visitors.

Trizna also is transitioning the land to organic and will oversee the organic certification process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She said she has several other farmers helping her and is proud of the all-woman farm. The workers do everything from operating the tractor to prepping the soil and harvesting the crops.

“It’s providing great food to the people who need it most,” Trizna said. “The farm will act as an evolving model for institutions across the country as well as for farmers who have the knowledge but lack the resources to start their own farm.”

EVENTUALLY, YEAR-ROUND PRODUCTION

Further support came from St. Luke’s Auxiliary, which raised funds for a 1,120-square-foot hoop house, an enclosed structure that provides space for an extended growing season, Trizna said.

“Our ultimate goal is to create global human health, that is the driver to what we do,” said Mark Smallwood, executive director of Rodale Institute. “We try to create models that can be replicated and scaled.”

He said his vision for the new St. Luke’s farm is to have 15 to 20 farmers working at the site, introduce small canneries and establish greenhouse operations to extend year-long production.

“We feel this is a crowning moment,” Smallwood said. “We are proving once again what was thought to be impossible – growing organic food on hospital property.”

In the future, the farm could double in size and produce nearly 100,000 pounds of produce, Smallwood said.

Brian Pedersen

Brian Pedersen

Reporter Brian Pedersen covers construction, development, warehousing and real estate and keeps you up to date on the changing landscape of our community. He can be reached at brianp@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 108. Follow him on Twitter @BrianLehigh and read his blog, “Can You Dig It,” at http://www.lvb.com/section/can-you-dig-it. Brian also has a strong interest in health and fitness. He works part-time as a personal trainer at Steel Fitness Riverport in Bethlehem and earned his personal fitness trainer certification from World Instructor Training Schools. He loves to run and will be competing in his first half-marathon on Nov. 23 to raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

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