Inspiring Your Own Hospital Garden

Hospitals across the country share their stories of the benefits of food gardens.

By Emma Sirois, National Program Coordinator, Health Care Without Harm on October 16, 2015

My reason for making sure food gardens are close at hand is very personal: Her name is Anika. Her first foods were asparagus and spinach out of my garden, and her first words were fwabies (strawberries) and renish (radish)—which she thought were beautiful candies and still devours to this day.

Good food nourishes and restores our bodies, and making that food accessible (that is, close by and affordable) is integral to our health and a healthy food system. But food gardens also have many co-benefits for our communities and the environment. They offer green spaces that cool our environment, build our soil, teach us how and why to grow food, provide outlets for therapy and rehabilitation and build community partnerships. Increasingly we see hospitals across the country embrace on-site and off-site food-producing gardens and farms as an important component of their health, wellness and sustainability programs.

Here are some of the stories we have heard, with the hope that they will inspire and provide useful insight and tips for starting a program at your facility.


New Milford began its Plow to Plate program in 2006 as a “comprehensive initiative that combines hospital leadership and community-based programs to promote the local foods and agriculture as a critical means to well-being and disease prevention.” This past year, a hospital expansion brought challenges and opportunities as the site of its Culinary Garden was shrunk to accommodate a new ER wing. In response, the hospital went vertical, adding six towers, each of which supports about 25 plants and produces in half the time of traditional beds, translating to plenty of produce. Soon the hospital will expand this garden onto the rooftop of the new wing, adding 1,000 square feet of production space. All the labor to support the planting, tending and harvesting is provided by the food service director and culinary staff, creating a unique connection between the chefs and the food they serve. Seventy-five percent of the produce from the garden (including tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce and herbs) is used in patient and cafeteria meals, while the remaining 25 percent is sold to staff and visitors at an on-site farm stand along with produce from local farm partners. New Milford is also supporting greening beyond its campus with “institutional CSAs” where it purchases produce from local and organic farms in advance. Finally, the hospital has a food waste recycling program that composts plate waste from hospital dining for use in the Culinary Garden and sends trim/prep scrap to a local equestrian center.


Connecticut Mental Health Center, a public psychiatric hospital, has developed a unique garden program that not only produces food for its food service but is also used therapeutically with outpatients and inpatients in collaboration with rehabilitation staff. Funded through the hospital’s operating budget, the Courtyard Culinary Garden was established in 2014 through a collaboration of the center’s food service management company, the culinary staff and a local urban farming organiza-
tion. Together they designed the space and planted vegetables to integrate with the café menu, including herbs, tomato, turnips, lettuces and more. A local farmer also hosts weekly learning sessions for employees and patients on gardening. CMHC also operates a community garden two blocks away from the hospital, built in cooperation with a nonprofit land trust and a local senior living center. Now in its third year, the project has helped CMHC build a relationship with the poorest neighborhood in New Haven. Local children and families are engaged in the garden through planning and harvesting, and the project has even gotten the attention of local law enforcement, which helps monitor and keep the area safe.


At Seattle Children’s, a core group of staff members from grounds, transportation, sustainability, nutrition and clinical departments such as endocrinology that were interested in gardening and all its benefits came together to launch a hospital garden in 2013. This group saw a garden as a way to provide a healing environment for patients, families and staff; reduce the hospital’s carbon footprint; bring fresh produce into patient and café meals; transform the hospital food service to one based on whole, local and sustainable foods cooked from scratch; and provide a teaching environment for kids coming to the hospital with diet-related health issues. Now in its third year, the garden is consistently providing produce (such as tomatoes, squash and herbs) for use in café and patient meal service. This past summer alone, 1,420 pounds of tomatoes, 122 pounds of herbs and 480 pounds of squash were served, offsetting produce purchases. As the hospital expands, the team is advocating for rooftop space for an edibles garden. A combination of grants, donated labor and materials from the grounds department and staff volunteers as well as community partnerships have made this program a success. Their big tip: “The most important ingredients are enthusiasm and linking like-minded people. Also, it really helped to have our grounds manager 200 percent behind our garden.”

Seattle Children's Hospital

The food garden at Seattle Children’s produces thousands of pounds of produce for food service during the growing season.


The Café Garden at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital was developed this past May after leadership was inspired by other hospital gardens across the country. The garden is located about 100 yards from the café kitchen, and the produce (grown with organic methods) is used in the café for visitors and employees, the Early Learning Center and for patient meals. Although this is a new garden, the hospital has already documented a $700 savings on produce purchases—even without taking into account that it is enjoying organic compared to non-organic produce. Food service staff plant, tend and harvest the garden in addition to creating tasty meals with the produce. The garden is also used as a learning/school garden with employees’ children at the Early Learning Center. Financially, the garden project is supported through a hospital endowment, and its volunteer service department has recruited master gardeners to help with harvesting, trimming and weeding. With the success of this first garden, the team is now laying plans to expand the garden and add a greenhouse.


Fairview Hospital’s organic garden story began in 2007 when it became the first hospital in Massachusetts to sign the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge. Fairview began looking at ways to incorporate fresh, healthy foods for patients, staff and cafeteria customers, and its food service director’s love of gardening and a small patch of lawn on-site were a perfect match. Its maintenance department rototilled and put up a fence, and every year, local farmers donate the plants and compost. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, squash and parsley are grown and incorporated into cafeteria and patient menus. Deer, rabbits and even a groundhog also happily enjoy the produce. Fairview’s big tip: “There are many ways for hospitals to grow even small amounts of herbs and vegetables that don’t have a large financial impact or use much space.”


Just this past year, Cottage Hospital started its garden with three raised beds in an area where inpatients can enjoy the green space or work in the garden if they choose. The beds are even designed so that patients in wheelchairs can easily access them. All of the produce from the garden—tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and an assortment of herbs—is incorporated into meals and served fresh on the salad bar. The garden is offsetting food service produce costs, and the cost of plants, fertilizer, etc. is covered out of the food budget. The hospital has found that the garden keeps patients and visitors interested in how it is using the food. Currently the planting and harvesting are done by kitchen staff; however, as the garden expands, the hospital will recruit volunteers to help.