A veteran executive chef with a passion for healthful eating. A 12-acre farm on site that grows kale, eggplants, winter squash, and 100 other crops. A menu that changes by the season.
You may be familiar with farm-to-table restaurants. But have you heard of organic farm-to-hospital dining?
Since 2014, patients, visitors, and staff at St. Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania have been the beneficiaries of an unusual -- albeit expensive -- enterprise that is equal parts about culinary exploration, environmental sustainability, and support for local farmers.
St. Luke’s, a nonprofit regional medical network based in Bethlehem, PA, partners with Rodale Institute, an advocacy group for organic farming, on what may be the largest-scale farm-to-hospital program in the U.S. The St. Luke’s-Rodale Institute Organic Farm on the Anderson Campus of St. Luke’s in Easton supplies the chain’s 12 hospitals. It also supports a farmers market inside the Anderson Campus hospital as well as a small retail operation that sells grab-and-go meals like roasted veggie sandwiches.
The hospital’s menu features dishes more commonly served in popular eateries: Thai spiced chicken wraps featuring the farm’s butterhead lettuce or nutrient-packed grain bowls with veggies like peppers, zucchini, fennel, and kohlrabi.
The Anderson Campus of St. Luke’s first opened in 2011 on 500 acres of land, of which only around 50 was occupied by the hospital itself. After deciding it would be a good idea to create an organic farm on part of the excess land, the hospital then contacted the nearby Rodale Institute for farming expertise and to explore a potential partnership. The first farming season kicked off in 2014, and the rest is history.
“When you think about having your own organic farm, usually that’s reserved for Michelin star restaurants,” says Charles DeLeva, executive chef at the Anderson Campus. “I like to know where my product comes from as a chef, and you can’t do any better than that.”