Perched on an 8-foot ladder, Michelle Lutz reaches into the leafy tops of the pole-bean vines growing toward the glass roof of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital's new $1 million hydroponic greenhouse.
"The first ones!" the resident farmer declares, holding up several young pods.
Already she had picked red and green lettuces, heirloom cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, edible nasturtiums and bunches of herbs for the hospital's kitchen, which uses the produce in patients' meals and its caf.
Vegetables and herbs -- five types of kale, 23 kinds of tomatoes, five varieties of basil, eggplants, squash, hot and sweet peppers, fresh herbs, microgreens and strawberry plants -- have been thriving since midsummer in what Henry Ford officials say is the first hospital-based greenhouse in the USA.
It is surprisingly prolific. Hospital chefs no longer have to buy microgreens or basil, their most-used herb, because the greenhouse produces all they need. "If I manage this properly," Lutz says, indicating her 12-by-20-foot hydroponic table, "this will produce 15,000 heads of lettuce in a year. For 240 square feet, that's pretty incredible."
Growing organic vegetables year-round for the hospital's kitchens isn't the only purpose of the gleaming, 1,500-square-foot glass structure and its adjoining educational center, both entirely funded by an anonymous donor.
The buildings, to be unveiled Saturday, are designed to educate and inspire everyone from patients to the public to make healthier food choices -- in keeping with the hospital's mission of promoting wellness as well as treating illness.
And because of Michigan's high childhood obesity rates, many of its educational center exhibits and programs are geared toward kids.
"We want to make sure that every single day we have yellow school buses coming here from all over southeast Michigan," hospital CEO Gerard van Grinsven says. "We want to influence our young ones to start thinking differently about food and what they put in their bodies."
"This is not just about a little greenhouse. It's about planting seeds," he says.
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