In January of 2017 Mad River Community Hospital (MRCH) celebrated its first harvest from its recently built, 450 square-foot hydroponics greenhouse manufactured by Agra Tech in Pittsburg, CA.
Since 2008, the hospital has produced much of the fresh fruit and vegetables that is serves in the café and to patients from the hospital farm located on the Mad River Community Hospital property. With the addition of the Agra Tech greenhouse and AM Hydro systems MRCH has expanded is production capacity particularly in the winter months. The hospital will be able to provide even more healthy food to its patients and staff all year long. Produce grown in the hydroponic systems include lettuce mixes, cucumbers, baby Swiss chard, bok choy, baby kale, tomatoes, spinach Asian greens and basil.
Todd Heustis, Mad River Community Hospital’s Food and Nutrition Services Manager in conjunction with CEO Doug Shaw, initially began exploring the concept of using a hydroponics greenhouse in 2012. In November of 2016 construction was finally complete.
“Our goals were simple to expand our off season growing capacity while demonstrating an innovative way to produce more in a smaller space.” Heustis said. “We have come a long way. In 2008, we started our farm project with a one-acre dirt farm and in 2011, it was so successful that we added a second acre. We learned as we went along, we got a lot of support and advice by reaching out to the local farming community. We are now able to provide 30-80%, season dependent, of our produce needs to our patients, doctors, visitors and staff.”
Mad River Community Hospital employs a full-time farmer, Graham Gagne, to manage both hydroponic greenhouse and the farm. He works closely with the kitchen to coordinate daily produce needs. At the weekly menu meeting the dept. manager, kitchen supervisor, café cook and farmer design the café specials for the following week specifically written to include farm fresh produce. By holding weekly menu planning meetings, Heustis and the hospital’s chefs are able to use produce that is seasonal and guaranteed to be ripe. “Our chefs are doing some really creative things with our weekly menus. We sit down and discuss our inventory and try to use as much as can from the farm into everything we serve.
Am Hydro, a global hydroponic company based out of Arcata CA, provided the hydroponic equipment, startup knowledge and recommended the Agra Tech Greenhouses. After doing some research; we decided to buy an 18′ x 24′ Agra Tech greenhouse, a 6’x12’ NFT hydro table, a 10’ Dutch bucket system, computer monitoring system, and dosing pumps. Since then we have doubled our hydroponic systems. In hind sight we should have started with a much larger system, we could be operating a larger greenhouse with the hydroponics computerized monitoring system we have.
The hospital’s plant operations department built the greenhouse. Heustis and Gange set up the hydro systems in the structure. Plenty of advice was needed from ATI along the way. “We were calling their tech support line all the time with questions and they were great at helping us throughout the process. We tapped into their expertise whenever we needed it, and they came through each and every time.”
Producing crops in the Agra Tech greenhouse coupled with American Hydroponics’ system provides the ideal growing environment. When compared to in-ground farming, hydroponic gardening in the Agra Tech Greenhouse is consistently 25% faster. “Out in the field, it takes approximately 60 days to turn a crop, but in the greenhouse, we can do it in just 45 days,” Heustis said.
The farm project has provided numerous other benefits, in marketing, staff pride, support to our local food bank, an in-house farmers marked, physician and staff recruiting tool. “Providers are amazed first, that we have a farm and second, by the innovative use of hydroponic system in the Agra Tech Greenhouse” Heustis said, “The farm project has allowed us to further align the organization with community priorities in Local organic food.”
About Mad River Community Hospital
Mad River Community Hospital is a locally-owned and independent hospital that provides a complete range of acute care inpatient services, including OB, Trauma level 4 emergency medicine, physical therapy, ICU, med/surg and radiological services for the people of Arcata, CA and neighboring areas. The facility is also associated with an adult day health care, home health care department outpatient rehabilitation clinics, wound care and hyperbaric oxygen program.
Please contact Todd Heustis firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions regarding the farm and hydroponic project.
Article by Ed Attanasio of TrustEDadvertising