Reducing food insecurity the goal of a rooftop garden at Baptist Health-Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 669 views 

Volunteers work to plant and maintain a rooftop garden at Baptist Health-Fort Smith.

Baptist Health-Fort Smith is growing fruits and vegetables in a new rooftop garden in hopes of addressing food insecurity among its patients. It’s the first of its kind in Arkansas, and just one of 25 nationwide, according to hospital officials.

Located on the roof of Marvin Altman Fitness Center on the Baptist Health-Fort Smith campus, the garden is capable of growing 27 different crops of fruits and vegetables. 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 with the first phase of planting complete on Oct. 30, said Hannah Schultz, graduate assistant at Baptist Health-Fort Smith.

Those crops will be ready for harvest in the middle to end of December, said Schultz, who began researching and planning the garden in July.

“All crops have been selected and planned according to their optimal planting conditions. The growing season varies for each plant, so the three that were planted on (Oct. 30) are the hardiest for this time of year,” Schultz said.

Statistics show food insecurity in the Fort Smith metro is nearly 40 times greater than the national average. Food insecurity often leads individuals to choose less expensive and less nutritious food, often contributing to poor health, noted a news release from Baptist-Fort Smith.

“We want to be able to serve our patients beyond the walls of our hospitals and clinics,” said Jeff Carrier, Western Region president of Baptist Health.

Shultz said the produce from the garden will allow Baptist to enrich the Fort Smith area and encourage healthy habits.” The rooftop garden features approximately 3,000 square feet of growing space. Arvest Foundation gave Baptist Health Foundation a $2,500 grant to support the rooftop garden and in-kind supply donations came from Home Depot, Sutherlands, Atwoods, Yeager Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Walrod’s and Farmers Co-Op in Fort Smith and Van Buren.

“Nearly all materials were donated, and a grant from the Arvest Foundation assisted in the remaining gardening tools needed. Local businesses and co-ops donated nearly all materials such as seeds, dirt, and tools,” Shultz said.

Volunteers work to plant and maintain a rooftop garden at Baptist Health-Fort Smith.

Roger Holroyd, president of Arvest Bank in Fort Smith and the region, said they were pleased to donate on behalf of the Arvest Foundation to support the Baptist Health Rooftop Garden and its effort to provide nutritious food to individuals in need.

The garden’s maintenance will be completed by the River Valley Master Gardeners as well as Baptist Health employees who have volunteered for the project. 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.

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.

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

Patients are screened for food insecurity during their inpatient stay at Baptist Health-Fort Smith. This is typically done via case management or nursing staff and consists of a variety of questions that can determine their level of food insecurity, Shultz said. Patients identified as food insecure receive the food, she said.

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.

“This garden is capable of generating approximately 1,500 meals a day once fully producing,” Shultz said. “While this may not fix food insecurity for the whole River Valley, it is a step in the right direction of helping patients that are in need of assistance.”