Meet Trevor Johnson. He is the Resident Farmer at the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. But wait: why does a hospital need a resident farmer?
The position has actually existed at the hospital for several years. Johnson found out about the job when the previous Resident Farmer, Michelle Lutz, left to take on a new role elsewhere and recommended him for the position. He has been in this role for three years now.
The 1,500-square-foot hydroponic Greenhouse and its accompanying education center was constructed with a $1 million private donation intended to further the hospital’s goals of providing both active and preventative healthcare in the same place, treating the whole person rather than just the presenting symptoms of a current illness or injury. It is the first hospital-based organic greenhouse in Michigan.
While farming is certainly a large part of what Johnson does – he is the “Resident Farmer,” after all – he sees his role as being more one of an educator. He oversees the hospital’s greenhouse, which grows produce that is then sold on-site in their weekly farmer’s market, Henry’s Market, and also gets used in meal preparation for patients and in the cafeteria, ensuring nutrient-dense food is served to all visitors to the hospital as part of the hospital’s overall vision to promote a holistic approach to healthcare. In addition to that, Johnson also coordinates various educational programs, tours, and classes.
Johnson has a degree in horticulture from Michigan State University and has been farming since 2003, though he always found his passion resided more in education with food (and farming) as the conduit.
“It is a wonderful holistic experience talking about how everything in our lives can be tied back to food and our relationship to food,” he says. “You can talk about politics, science, high culture, and helping people with the fundamentals of living all through food.”
He says that the “main thrust” of his job is providing education, and the primary program through which he does this is the “Chef for a Day/Farmer for a Day” kids’ cooking program. Groups of school kids come in to learn how to be healthy eaters and get samples of tasty and nutritious snacks that they can make themselves. The goal of this program is to educate kids on healthy eating habits, how to make healthy food choices (including instruction on reading nutrition labels), and some basics on organic growing techniques.
“We teach kids how to eat right and integrate that with food production, and we can do it all in one place right here,” says Johnson.
One thing he teaches kids is the “5-2-1-0” game plan: eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, aim for two hours or less of recreational screen time per day (that includes TV screens as well as tablets and cell phones), try to get one hour of physical activity in at least three times per week, and drink zero sugar-added beverages like soda, sports drinks, and fruit drinks. The goal of this plan is to promote healthier, happier lifestyles for kids and their families.
The Greenhouse is integrated in the hospital’s education programs to show kids that they don’t need a five-acre farm to grow their own foods; they can start with a little plot next to their patios. Growing some of their own vegetables also means less screen time and more physical activity, all contributing to the overall 5-2-1-0 plan.
Teaching kids about healthy foods and healthy lifestyles is in keeping with the hospital’s holistic approach to healthcare. Henry Ford is focusing more on long-term preventative care, and much of preventative care has to do with an individual person’s behavior over his or her lifetime.
“If we can convince you to have preventative behaviors so you don’t have to come in here, that’s what we want,” Johnson says. “We’re teaching kids that they can make choices that shape the direction of the rest of their lives.”