Food Rx: the Perfect Prescription 

“We want our rooftop garden to address food insecurity but also serve as a beacon of hope for our community. Together, with every seed we plant, we can grow and cultivate a community where no one goes hungry.” Lena Hayes, chief development officer of Baptist Health Foundation

Full bellies. Access to healthy food. It’s something a lot of us take for granted; I know I do. I’d of course heard of food insecurity and, like everyone, there are weeks when I need to make a couple of adjustments to my standard grocery list. But true food insecurity is something I’ve never experienced. Hopefully, thanks to the hard work of people like Hannah Schultz, more people in our community will soon be able to say the same.

I had the opportunity to chat with Hannah about Food Rx, the new food program at Baptist Health. 

What inspired the idea of a rooftop garden? 

The inspiration for the rooftop garden came from the food insecurity percentage of the area. As a grad student for public health, we focus heavily on social determinants of health. After seeing that the River Valley has a food insecurity percentage of 17%, which is 40% higher than the national average. I wanted to create a way for patients to access fresh fruits and vegetables. This idea was based off of the Boston Medical Center and its rooftop garden.

What is the goal of the garden?

The goal of the garden is to lessen the food insecurity percentage in the coming years. Baptist Health-Fort Smith has started a Food RX program that identifies food-insecure patients and provides them with three days’ worth of non-perishable food. The garden will produce fruits and vegetables adding to the Food Rx three-day food supply and allow for greater access to fresh and nutritious food. 

How did the Farmers Cooperative get involved?  

The Farmers Coop got involved as I was visiting gardening and ground maintenance businesses in the area seeking donations for garden construction. I initially visited the Fort Smith Coop and Mrs. Jenni. She assisted with the provision of hoses, gloves, and other materials, and subsequently referred me to Mr. Crabtree. I met with Mr. Crabtree and explained to him the purpose and objective of the garden and he was very supportive. He donated 400 tubs to use, as well as several pallets of soil that led to us being able to launch the project when we did!

Is there anything you would like to tell our readers about the program or Baptist Health in general? 

The Baptist Health Food Rx program provides emergency food supplies for admitted patients upon discharge identified with food insecurity. The patients receive a three-day food supply for a family of four. Fruits and vegetables harvested from the garden will be used to supplement Baptist Health Foundation’s Food Rx program offering identified patients a bag of healthy, nutrient-dense foods alongside fresh produce that allows them immediate access to the necessary nourishment to continue their healing at home. 

Healthcare professionals screen inpatients at Baptist Health-Fort Smith at the bedside or through MyChart to identify those who need food. Additionally, the Baptist Health Community Resources Hub, powered by findhelp, connects patients to free or reduced-cost support for medical care, food, transportation, financial assistance, and other services at baptisthealthar.findhelp.com 

The people behind the Food Rx program, along with representatives from the Farmers Cooperative, Arvest Foundation, and other supporters, gathered on November 17th for a ribbon cutting ceremony.The people behind the Food Rx program, along with representatives from the Farmers Cooperative, Arvest Foundation, and other supporters, gathered on November 17th for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The timing is fitting, seeing as we’re a week out from a holiday where most of us will eat our fill and then some. 

The garden, one of 25 across the nation, is located on the roof of Marvin Altman Fitness Center on the Baptist Health-Fort Smith campus and is capable of holding 27 different crops. Baptist Health employees and the River Valley Master Gardeners volunteered their time to plant winter crops such as Swiss chard, turnips, and beets at the end of October. Schultz said the volunteers will begin their next planting cycle in February with spinach and potatoes. Later in the spring, they will plant broccoli, asparagus, onions, kale, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. 

Work on the project began long before the first seeds were planted. Hannah Schultz, graduate assistant at Baptist Health-Fort Smith, has researched and planned the garden since July. It wouldn’t be possible without the overwhelming support of in-kind supplies from community businesses including Home Depot, Sutherlands, Atwoods, Yeager Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Walrod’s, and Farmers Coop in Fort Smith and Van Buren. Arvest Foundation also granted $2,500 to Baptist Health Foundation to support the rooftop garden. 

“We are pleased to present this donation on behalf of the Arvest Foundation to support the Baptist Health Rooftop Garden and their effort to provide nutritious food to individuals in need. This donation demonstrates the foundation’s ongoing commitment to the communities that we serve.” Roger Holroyd, president of Arvest Bank in the Fort Smith and River Valley Region

Readers can learn more about supporting Baptist Health Foundation and the Rooftop Garden, Food Rx program, by visiting baptisthealthfoundation.org/areas-of-purpose/food-rx/

Written by: Ryanne Harper, Hannah Schultz.  This article is part of Farmers Coop magazine, Seed & Sow, November 2023 edition


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