Eating Right: The Arkansas Heart Hospital Garden


Arkansas Heart Hospitals’ garden offers a multi-faceted approach to improving improving health.

Eating right can improve overall health, of course, and giving people nutritious options is one way to encourage them to do that.

The hospital’s garden, which officially got its start in the spring, is now brimming with squash, tomatoes, snow peas, carrots, broccoli, beets and more.

“Our gardener, Jon, is so knowledgeable,” says Casey Atwood, director of culinary services at the Arkansas Hospital of gardener Jon Bierman, who was responsible for developing the garden program at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center before assuming this new job in January.

“He’s come here and really done a fantastic job,” she says. “He’s really been putting a lot of stuff in the space that we have. It’s been fantastic to see that space be transformed. The purpose of the garden is really for education, to kind of stand behind what we preach about – eating good healthy foods, being more familiar with the stuff that grows and eating it right there.”

Processed foods do have a place in today’s diets, Atwood explains, but it’s important that people have a good grasp on the origin of what they eat.

“We’re just trying to get back to the basics of eating – you know, it grows from the ground, you pick it and then you eat it,” she says. “That’s really that education piece of it. A lot of people don’t realize – kids, especially, don’t realize – where food comes from. They just think it comes and it’s so easy and it’s just there at the store and it’s packaged and it’s so pretty and everything, but there’s a whole process to it.”

From a practical standpoint, produce and herbs grown in the hospital garden are used to feed patients, visitors and staff. Chef Coby Smith’s ramen is well-known in the area. People come in droves to get the ramen bowls served in the hospital cafeteria and, more recently, from the Heart Hospital food truck that travels to different parts of central Arkansas, and some of those dishes feature foods grown right on the hospital’s grounds.

“We’re using it in our kitchen, mostly in our café line,” says Atwood. “We’ll do fresh veggies sometimes in a grab-and-go and when we had all those fresh lettuces we had those on our salad bar.”

On days when ramen isn’t served, crepes are often on the menu, also featuring produce and herbs harvested on-site.

Bees play a crucial role in pollinating and propagating in gardens, so the Heart Hospital has recently introduced hives to the beds.

“The bees came to us in April so they’re kind of new to our team, but they’ve been doing really well and they’ve been thriving there in the garden,” Atwood says. “We want to teach people that bees are not scary. They really are the reason we have food, because of their process and what they do. They really are a very important part of the food chain and educating people about that, we feel, is very important.”

Gardens can be sanctuaries for people who are sick or stressed and the Heart Hospital garden is no exception. Patients at the hospital, recovering from illness or surgery, can benefit from sitting in or strolling through the garden.

“That space is kind of like therapy,” says Atwood. “It’s kind of healing so it’s also about just trying to get people outside and show them the importance of that healing.”

>> Learn more about Arkansas Heart Hospital’s Ramen food truck and podcast here. <<

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