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Aspirus works towards growing healthy, sustainable communities with hydroponic gardens

Lettuce is harvested from one the vertical hydroponic gardens at an Aspirus hospital.
Lettuce is harvested from one the vertical hydroponic gardens at an Aspirus hospital.

Healthy eating is a major factor in building healthy bodies.

It’s part of the reason Aspirus has been installing vertical hydroponic gardens in its hospitals.

Hospitals in Ironwood, Iron River, Ontonagon, and Keweenaw are the latest to start growing their own fruits and vegetables.

Moriah Maggio is the patient experience coordinator for the U.P. region and co-chair of Keweenaw Hospital’s green team.

She says the gardens will be multi-use.

They’ll provide food for the hospital cafeterias, they’ll be used for educating school groups on healthy eating, and patients will eventually be able to get the food through the Aspirus Prescription for Health program.

“[It] means you can go to your provider and if you are maybe a little food insecure or just a focus on eating a little healthier you can actually get a voucher that you can use at local farmers markets, but we hope to feed some of that program with some of the produce that comes out of the vertical gardens,” said Maggio.

The hospitals have started growing lettuce and will eventually expand to other produce.

Aspirus talent representative and green team member Jamie Bourgo says the gardens have been met with excitement by staff and patients.

“Just the presence of the flex farm being there. The bright light and you can see all the greens peaking up overhead, it’s uplifting, particularly this time of the year more than anything. I feel like every single time I’m down there, I’m getting asked questions about it,” said Bourgo.

The gardens can potentially yield more than 7,000 servings of lettuce annually for each hospital.

“We’re one harvest in with our garden. What we chose to do with that is to provide free salads to everyone that came through the cafeteria line on a specific day. From that first harvest, we gathered eight pounds of green leaf lettuce. That was pretty amazing. It felt really good to give it back and it was delicious,” Bourgo said.

Both Bourgo and Maggio say while the direct health benefits of growing food in the hospitals has been great, the sustainability aspect has also been key.

They both feel it’s important their employer shares their values of creating a more sustainable community, something they also believe resonates in patients.

“Patients come to their healthcare facilities and expect to be treated for vaccines and emergency issues, but seeing that the organization you come for also has this focus on the community and our lives in general, on protecting the environment or working on different initiatives like this. As an employer, you want them to pay you a good wage and take care of your safety, but it’s also important to know the organization you work for cares for some of those other values you have. I think that’s been important too,” said Maggio.

Maggio says the garden program will also be expanding to Aspirus hospitals in Northern Wisconsin.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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