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Stony Brook's Hospital Food Program Uses Fresh Ingredients Grown From Its Own Rooftop Garden

Forget about the bland flavors, weird textures Jell-O stereotypes: Stony Brook University Hospital in Stony Brook, N.Y., is making a new name for hospital food with fresh ingredients grown from its very own rooftop garden.

The hospital’s garden initiative started 5 years ago and has since expanded to 2,200 square feet, producing 1,300 pounds of organic produce per year.

The rooftop garden, located on the third floor of the Health Sciences Tower, is used to produce everything from tomatoes, to fresh herbs, sunflowers, strawberries and even pumpkins. Just one day’s harvest of lettuce can be used to serve around 225 salads.

Headed by Stony Brook’s nutrition director, Josephine Connolly-Schooner, the interns and faculty members who make up the farming team work with the hospital’s head chef to incorporate each day’s crop into into patients’ meals. Although the food produced by the hospital’s garden makes up only a fraction of what is required to prepare the 1,300 meals served to patients each day, the inclusion of fresh foods wherever possible makes a great difference.

In early 2016, Stony Brook was featured in a Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine report on the top 24 hospital food programs. Stony Brook tied with Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen, Colo., for the number one spot based on a criteria of “healthful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cholesterol-free entrées, and soy milk” menu offerings.

There might not be much concrete evidence proving that fresh vegetables can definitively help sick people recover, but Connolly-Schooner argues that providing home-grown, home-cooked meals for patients is “creating a culture” and has a positive psychological effect. It also sets a good example for eating habits they will hopefully pick up once they return home.

Connolly-Schoonen says, "With the Stony Brook Heights Rooftop Farm we are changing the culture and how people think about food. The healthiest food to use in preparing meals is food that is least processed like vegetables. … Serving such food to our patients helps us convey this educational message.”