Inside the farm growing in an AdventHealth parking lot

Jakob Emerson – Becker’s Hospital Review

Patients and staff at AdventHealth Celebration (Fla.) enjoy farm-fresh produce everyday at the hospital’s cafe and physician lounge. It all comes from a farm operating right on campus, but you probably won’t spot it by simply walking around.

Inside a 320-square-foot repurposed shipping container is a hydroponic operation capable of matching a 3-acre farm’s produce yield, a first of its kind initiative on a hospital campus.

“We produce about 700 to 850 heads of lettuce or any type of produce every week,” said Sean Toor, operations manager at AdventHealth Celebration and the one-man team responsible for everything from planting to harvesting vegetables five days a week.

“That includes bok choy, cilantro, basil, radishes, and five different types of lettuce,” he said. “We also grow all different types of leafy greens.”

Dubbed the Freight Farm, the vertical space sitting in the parking lot of a physician training center only uses a maximum of eight gallons of water per day, which it pulls directly from the air outside, along with condensation inside the container. No pesticides are needed for that reason, and any leftover, nutrient-rich water goes to supporting the hospital’s landscaping.

“Celebration wanted to have greenhouses to produce food and bring more nutrition to everybody on our campus,” Mr. Toor said. “This is a way that we are able to produce a lot of food in a small area that is also more sanitary and safe.”

First established in August 2021 for about $150,000, the farm is creating a direct return on investment for the hospital’s employees and local community. In the first year of introducing the on-site produce at the cafe, transactions increased 85% and revenue went up 238%. The hospital noted that it extended its salad bar hours during that time because of growing demand for what was coming out of the shipping container.

The produce being grown is also donated to a nearby school, and the Freight Farm offers tours to local school groups and older adults, along with any hospital staff interested in helping to grow the produce.

Later this year, two more farm containers will be delivered to Celebration so that AdventHealth’s campuses in East Orlando and Kissimmee will also begin to receive fresh produce.

“There’s more nutrition in the produce we grow too because the longer it takes for produce to leave the farm and get to the table, the less supplements and minerals are available,” Mr. Toor said. “Food as medicine is bringing healthier produce to our community and our employees.”