Augusta Health is looking to change the way you think of a hospital campus… and cafeteria. We have partnered with the Allegheny Mountain Institute to create a farm on the Augusta Health campus. This project, which launched in 2018, has the goal of increasing access to nutrient-dense foods for not only our patients but the larger community as well.
Who came up with this idea, and what kind of impact has it had on the hospital and larger community? We spoke with Krystal Moyers, Director of Community Outreach at Augusta Health and Pat Banks, Farm Manager, AMI Farm at Augusta Health, to find out more information after the first full year of the farm project.
Meeting a Community Need
The health needs of every community are different. In order to tackle the needs most prevalent in our community, Augusta Health conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) every three years. The last CHNA, held in 2016, identified nutrition as a priority area of focus.
Augusta Health felt it was important to speak with community partners to identify current gaps in food access and education. "We really wanted to talk to people with boots on the ground, working in the nutrition field every day. So we pulled together what we call a nutrition symposium of groups that did that work."
That symposium included The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, representatives from the local school systems, the Boys and Girls Club, Project Grows, Alleghany Mountain Institute, and other local organizations. From conversations within that working group, one of the ideas that rose to the top was starting a farm on the campus of Augusta Health."We identified Allegheny Mountain Institute (AMI) as a premier partner for that project. The missions of both AMI and Augusta Health revolve around promoting wellness in the community," says Moyers. The purpose of the AMI Farm at Augusta Health is to improved access to and education about healthy foods.
The farm officially broke ground in early 2018. "It was a hay field," recalls Banks. "There was nothing there."
Nevertheless, AMI set out to grow an ambitious 10,000 pounds of food in the first year. "We ended up growing around 15,000," Banks reports.
That food was used all over the Augusta Health campus: in catering, in hot line meals in the cafeteria, and even in patient meals. But the farm would do more than just change the foods on campus, it would also conduct outreach into the community through its FoodFarmacy Program.
Moyers explains that the Food Farmacy Program is "a prescription produce program that's referral only… the pilot cohort last year was with diabetic patients, so they had to have an A1c of over 7.5..." [A1C is shorthand for a test that measures a patients blood sugar levels.] "We invited the participants to bring a guest, a 'plus one' we called it, a spouse or someone who they felt could also benefit from the information and help motivate them in their lifestyle change."
The 2018 cohort that formed attended a 16 week-long program, meeting every Thursday for about an hour. Each week, hospital staff including dietitians and physicians, provided education centered around diabetes management.
Additionally, there was a cooking demonstration illustrating how to utilize food fresh from the farm, usually harvested earlier that afternoon. After that, participants were given vouchers based on the number of members in their family to spend at a farm stand of produce harvested from the farm.
This way, participants were given touch points on how to navigate incorporating food into their lives at every stage, from shopping to preparation.
Results from 2018 and Looking Towards the Future
Moyers is pleased with the findings of the program. "We saw a statistically significant decrease in the participants A1C as well as their BMI," she explains. "A majority also reported an increase in energy after participating in the program and 94% felt they confident in managing their diabetes."
Moyers concedes that with 20 participants, it is a small sample size, but they are encouraging results that have them looking forward to what the program has in store for 2019.
In 2019 the program was shortened from 16 weeks to 12 weeks, that way, they could fit two cohorts into the farm's growing season (the first of which is already underway). They've also invited participants from the 2018 cohort to return as mentors for the new participants. "That's one way we're trying to provide ongoing support and connection."
The Food Farmacy Program is also now open to pre-diabetic patients, meaning patients can participate in the program and receive support in their efforts to prevent type 2 diabetes.
The program is being moved off-campus and into portions of the community that are identified as being food insecure. That means that the program will be traveling to Churchville where accessing food can be more difficult than for those who live in Staunton or Waynesboro with access to weekly farmer's markets and larger grocers.
Banks and Moyers are excited to see the Food Farmacy expand into food insecure communities to illustrate the importance of consuming locally grown produce. If the first year is any indication, then they have already taken great strides in making that goal a reality.
For more information on the AMI Farm at Augusta Health, reach out to Krystal Moyers at kmoyers [at] augustahealth.com or call at (540) 332-4976. The AMI Farm is always seeking assistance from volunteers, as well! Every Tuesday night they host a volunteer night from 3 PM to 6 PM on the farm, which is located at 315 Mule Academy Road. AMI's volunteer coordinator is Grace, who can be reached at grace [at] alleghenymountainschool.org.