Beyond improving notoriously bad hospital food, this homegrown produce has other benefits as well.

making hospital food better
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You might expect a fine restaurant to source vegetables from its own private garden. And even some major brands like JetBlue have gotten on the health and sustainability bandwagon by going the farming route—in the case of the air carrier, by growing produce right at JFK Airport. But hospitals? Few places are as notorious for serving awful food as these institutions that are supposedly committed to our health. But in recent years, more and more hospitals have been trying to turn this irony on its head, looking to improve the quality of their meal options with homegrown produce.

“There is an increasing trend in hospital farms,” Stacia Clinton, the national program director for Health Care Without Harm’s Healthy Food in Health Care program, told USA Today for a recent report on the phenomenon. Clinton’s organization specifically advises hospitals on how to offer more sustainable and nutritious food, and from 2008 to 2016, the program saw the number of its partner hospitals than run their own farms or gardens double from 13 percent to 26 percent.

Though some of this food does actually lands on patients’ trays, hospitals are finding plenty of other uses for, and advantages to, growing their own fruits and vegetables – even beyond the sustainability and environmental benefits. At the Boston Medical Center, produce grown in its farm also goes to places like its preventative food pantry for low-income patients and to its demonstration kitchen that teaches patients how to prepare healthier meals.

Meanwhile, Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, uses the half-acre farm it launched last year to host pop-up farmers markets where patients can grab what they need when dropping in for a checkup. “The patients bring the produce into the appointment with their doctor,” Chinwe Onyekere, associate administrator for the medical center, told USA Today. “The provider now has a tactile way to engage the patient around the importance of nutrition and how to better control their diabetes or hypertension.” It’s a unique approach that puts a patient’s health literally in their own hands.