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Completing the Circle of Health: Good Samaritan Health Center’s Urban Farm

Good Samaritan2Since it’s currently a verdant and productive swathe of land, it’s hard to believe that The Good Samaritan Urban Farm started out as an empty lot full of kudzu and 172 tires. The farm sits behind the Good Samaritan Health Center,“a non-profit Christian organization that provides healthcare to uninsured, low income people in greater metropolitan Atlanta.”

Since Good Samaritan started developing the farm site last year, it has transformed into a great example of deserted properties’potential to provide much-needed green space, pollinator habitats, and local food. But the farm is also an opportunity to, in the words of Good Samaritan’s President/CEO, Dr. Bill Warren, “complete the circle of health.”

Between 60-70 percent of the farm’s harvest goes to a CSA, and the remainder is used as part of the Good Samaritan Health Center’s food access work, which as of last week includes an innovative fruit and vegetable prescription program.

Sustainability

To realize the vision of an urban farm serving patients, Good Samaritan partnered with the Southeastern Horticulture Society. “You don’t have to be an expert,”said Karen Rose, development director of Good Samaritan Health Center. “You just have to partner with experts.”

The Southeastern Horticulture Society brings over 25 years of horticultural knowledge to communities all over Georgia.

“The importance of [the Good Samaritan] farm is that food truly is medicine and a genuine professional utilizing produce as a prescription to treat people who don’t have access to healthcare is phenomenal,”said Southeastern Horticulture Society Executive Director Kate Chura.

The farm has the beginnings of an orchard, with pecan, pear, fig, and paw paw trees. They have an herb garden, and lots of tomatoes, greens, berries, radishes, and more.

Good Samaritan4

The site they’ve created not only gives patients nutrition, it provides green space and a sense of relaxation for staff and patients alike. Rose said she also often sees many patients spending time sitting in the farm, which sits in stark relief to its urban surroundings.

Once the kudzu and tires were cleared, the lot the farm is on was perfect for growing. It had never been developed, so the soil needed few amendments.

Rainwater from the Good Samaritan roof drains into a retention pond and a cistern, and they hope to eventually leave the water grid and supply all of their irrigation through rainwater runoff.

The farm design also supports pollinators, with two apiaries and an uncultivated meadow, with lots of clover that the bees love. There’s even a greenhouse, built by volunteers for a Martin Luther King Jr. day of service project.

Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program

Good Samaritan offers an array of services across the spectrum of care, including medical, dental, and mental health, so when the center introduced nutrition education in 2012, it was a natural extension of their work.

“More and more health professionals see the importance of nutrition, but don’t see their fit,” Rose said. “As health providers, we need to make that step into the food world.”

Good Samaritan Staff Nutritionist Jerlyn Jones teaches healthy cooking classes in the facility’s teaching kitchen, and patients learn how to prepare healthy seasonal meals that often incorporate produce from the farm. (A recent class covered herbed potato salad, a tasty and tactical choice for July; “I try not to turn on the oven in the summer,” Jones said.)

Jones also runs the brand-new produce prescription program. The program works like this: patients are referred by their healthcare provider, and receive a half share of the farm’s CSA for a month. They also get one-on-one nutritional counseling with Jones, and attend the aforementioned healthy cooking classes, and are sent home with recipes for how to cook the fruits and vegetables they’ve received. The healthcare staff at Good Samaritan will then monitor participants’ progress through biometrics.

The goal isn’t just to introduce more fruits and vegetables into patients’ lives in the short term—ideally, participation in the program will inspire people to shift their priorities towards incorporating more of them in the long term as well.

Wholesome Wave, the national organization that doubles federal nutrition benefits at farmers markets across the country, has a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program that “fosters innovative partnerships between healthcare and community food providers to make a direct connection between increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and improved health among vulnerable community members.” (You can read more about the program’s outcomes here.)

Wholesome Wave’s program is currently in seven states, but Good Samaritan’s program is the first of its kind to roll out in Georgia. (We should also note that Good Samaritan’s program isn’t part of the Wholesome Wave program.)

“We can’t feed everyone in Atlanta,” said Warren. “We’re a thimble trying to bail out a boat. But we’re creating a benefit for people in that thimble.” One of the goals for the produce prescription program is to make it replicable for other health care facilities.

Good Samaritan1CSA

The Good Samaritan Health Center’s urban farm also sells its produce through a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA).

“Not only do CSAs support farmers and urban agriculture, they also support local food and sustainable sourcing.” said Caitlin Hildebrand, a MD and Masters of Public Health candidate at Emory University, who has been instrumental in the implementation of the CSA program as a volunteer. “Our CSA also supports food access for all, regardless of socioeconomic status.”

The Good Samaritan Urban Farm provides food to people who are trying to change their eating habits and learn about good nutrition. Supporting their CSA program supports this farm’s outreach work as well. In the future they also hope to start accepting SNAP benefits (formally known as food stamps) so they can better serve their community.

For those who are worried about what to do with all this produce, the Good Samaritan Health Center provides healthy cooking classes using ingredients that will likely be in the CSA boxes. They even have a Pinterest recipe board to inspire you! To learn more about the CSA or join, click here.

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