Canola Field Promotes Well-Being at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus

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Canola Field

Credit: St. Luke's University Health Network

A canola field at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus in Bethlehem Township, Northampton County, is a place for visitors to experience nature.

A new 80-acre field of vibrant yellow canola at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus conveys feelings of peace and serenity and the comfort of natural beauty whenever it’s in bloom.

The spring canola, with its bright yellow flowers that bloom in mid-May, not only attracts beneficial insects such as honey bees and other pollinators, but also people looking for tranquility or, in many cases, selfies and family photos amid the golden expanse.

“A staff member was out at the canola field recently when a car pulled up and a visitor got out,” said Ed Nawrocki, President of St. Luke’s Anderson Campus. “The person looked at the canola and said, ‘This is healing.’ It really is stunning and reinforces the fact that St. Luke’s Anderson Campus is a place of healing, beauty and positive energy.”

The planting of the canola field is just another way St. Luke’s has used the land at the Anderson Campus to nourish individuals and families and to promote physical and mental well-being. Among the campus’s other agricultural and landscape features are an organic garden, a sunflower garden, walking trails, a community garden and cherry trees that were recently planted around the pond.

“We are stewards of this property,” Nawrocki explained. “As such, we want to use this land to make the Anderson Campus a destination for the community that extends beyond our exceptional healthcare. We want all visitors—whether they are patients, employees, members of the community or others—to have a fulfilling experience here.”

For the employees and staff of St. Luke’s Anderson Campus, the beauty of and the focus on wellness through initiatives like the organic garden and the planting of the canola field are a source of great pride.

“St. Luke’s Anderson Campus provides a serene and safe place to come together, not just as provider and patient, but as colleagues and community members to enrich each other’s experiences,” said Ileana Perez-Figueroa, MD/MPH, who works at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus. “The attention to detail here demonstrates that St. Luke’s aims to address many aspects of well-being, including social connectedness, nutrition, mental health and physical health. Even on the busiest of days, the moment I start walking to my car after a shift, the beautiful mountain views and canola fields always bring a smile to my face.”

Now in its seventh year, the organic farm at the Anderson Campus has grown out of a partnership between St. Luke’s and the Rodale Institute. In a unique initiative, the St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm grows fruits and vegetables that are used in cafeterias in all of the hospitals throughout the St. Luke’s University Health Network.

In 2020, the St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm—which is on 12 acres of land—grew approximately 50,000 pounds of produce.

“We provide approximately 200 farm shares weekly with high-quality, nutrient-dense foods to employee wellness, the clinical trials and wholesale orders to the cafeterias,” said Aslynn Parzanese, Interim Manager of the St. Luke’s Rodale Institute Organic Farm.

This year, the organic farm is growing a great variety of vegetables.

“Some of my favorites are beets, sweet potatoes, fennel, garlic and sunflower sprouts,” Parzanese said.

Other crops that have been grown on the farm include lettuce/salad greens, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, summer squash, Swiss chard and kale, garlic, cabbage, potatoes and herbs.

Last year, St. Luke’s also started a resident-led CSA project for hypertensive and diabetic patients from various continuity clinics.

“This project enabled patients with poorly controlled blood pressure and diabetes to obtain free weekly shares, along with recipes to use for cooking the produce,” Dr. Perez-Figueroa added. “Any shares that were not picked up by participants were donated to local schools and food pantries, which allowed St. Luke’s to strengthen its presence and partnership within the Lehigh Valley community. Innovation such as this shows St. Luke’s commitment not only to community health, but also to setting an example and a new standard for all health networks about what the ‘care’ in healthcare truly means.”

Canola

Credit: St. Luke's University Health Network

An 80-acre canola field at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus is winning rave reviews from both visitors and hospital staff.

Parzanese pointed out that previous farm managers transitioned from conventional farmland into organic vegetable production.

“It is my intention to proceed with more regenerative farming practices, rather than plasticulture,” she said, referring to the practice of using plastic materials in agricultural applications. “We can then complete the cycle–healthy soil, healthy foods, healthy people.”

St. Luke’s use of the land at the Anderson Campus to nourish and strengthen the minds and bodies of patients, employees, staff, members of the community and others is strategic and the benefits ripple throughout the entire network.

“I believe that farm-institution is what preventive health is all about,” Parzanese explained. “Historically, folks have had to intentionally seek out organic produce. Now, with programs such as this, we can educate through personal experiences that organic is so vital to our health. And those families who have been local organic consumers now have better access to organic produce.”

“Having these benefits shows St. Luke’s commitment and dedication to all members of its community,” added Dr. Perez-Figueroa. “It is certainly rare that you see such an emphasis on lifestyle medicine within a network. The ability to provide fresh produce in the hospital cafeteria, at the dinner table of employees and in the home for clinic patients highlights just how far a healthcare system can reach when the priority is the community.”

Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.

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