Farm at St. Joe's cultivates community commitment to healthy living

July 1, 2013

Achievement Citation


To teach about the importance of healthy lifestyles in southeast Michigan, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System is building community not just at its hospitals, but at its farm. The Farm at St. Joe's on the 364-acre grounds of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor is a place where planting vegetables is a therapy for veterans recovering from traumatic brain injury; where stroke and rehab patients ease their minds and improve dexterity tending elevated beds designed for the ease of patients using wheelchairs and walkers; where college students studying dietetics harvest produce and plan seasonal menus for the hospital's patients; and where the hospital has been able to step away from the financial and ecological costs of maintaining a manicured lawn by growing alfalfa and supporting natural meadows.

Farm Manager Dan Bair
Photo by Chris Ryan

The farm, which uses organic methods, provides patients, volunteers and visitors an experiential way to understand the link between fresh air, exercise, fresh food, good nutrition and good health.

That innovative, synergistic approach to healing and wellness has garnered the Farm at St. Joe's CHA's 2013 Achievement Citation. The award was presented June 3 at the Catholic Health Assembly in Anaheim, Calif. CHA said that St. Joseph's investment in the farm demonstrates the hospital's core values and mission "to heal body, mind and spirit, to improve the health of its communities and to steward the resources" placed in its trust, all in the spirit of the Gospel.

The farm operates year-round with a manager and involvement from system employees. A legion of community volunteers tend to chores in the fields and in three hoop houses — greenhouses designed to capture the heat from the sun and permit produce to be grown even in the winter.

Rob Casalou, St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor's president and chief executive, said that before the farm got started, administrators and staff realized they needed to do more to promote community wellness.

"Our overall food program, and I'm talking about what we fed our staff in the cafeteria, what we fed our patients, and whether we were truly a symbol of health in this community relative to our nutrition standards, we were not satisfied with it," he said. The hospital wasn't the role model it wanted to be in educating staff, patients and community members about health and nutrition. By creating the farm in 2010, the hospital raised awareness of the trade-offs involved in choosing highly processed convenience foods over fresh foods, and it wove the natural beauty and bounty of its campus into its therapeutic programs. "The farm became the beacon, the symbol of what we stood for," Casalou said.

To learn more about the Farm at St. Joe's and see a photo album, visit


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.