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Hydroponic Garden Provides Nourishment for Patients

September 26, 2023

Seven floors above the hustle and bustle of doctor’s offices and patient rooms, a rooftop garden on the Conklin Building offers a green oasis with views of the capitol building.

Sonia Rivera, nurse manager at the Hartford Hospital Community Health Brownstone Clinic, reaches among the stems of a bushy green cherry tomato plant to pluck a few ripe ones. They will be added to the daily harvest of lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and string beans plucked from the innovative hydroponic garden that sprang to life this summer.

Rooftop Garden

About 18 months after the Food4Health clinic opened at Hartford Hospital to help address food insecurity in the city, the program expanded to grow produce that could be given away.

Built by Hartford-based Levo International the simplified system consists of rows of planters fed water and nutrients through food-safe PVC pipes.

“This is a natural evolution of the Food4Health program,” says David Fichandler, senior director, operational coordination, integration and excellence at Hartford Hospital. “This helps feed the more than 500 families we serve through the program who face nutritional insecurity.”

Clients, referred by Hartford Hospital clinics as well as colleagues who qualify, visit the Food4Health Clinic weekly to get healthy, nutritious food for themselves and their families that often follow specific dietary needs. Designed like a grocery store, pantry staples and fresh vegetables line the shelves of the clinic and clients can take home recipe ideas for the items they take.

Many come from the Brownstone Clinic and, Rivera says, are on fixed budgets and struggle with the rising cost of groceries. Families may have to choose between paying for healthcare or food.

“We are able to provide healthy foods, which helps prevent chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes, from progressing,” she says.

David Juros, a contractor who coordinates efforts at Food4Health, says there have been more than 5,000 patient visits since the Food4Health Clinic opened. There are now two locations – at the Institute of Living and Hartford Hospital – with plans to expand to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in the fall.

Innovative system built by Hartford-based company

Christian Heiden first became interested in food security solutions in high school, when he built a hydroponic greenhouse for his Eagle Scout project. He subsequently founded Levo International and worked with families and community leaders in Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico to create sustainable change.

The simple hydroponic system can be easily and quickly assembled and optimizes the space, allowing for more produce to be grown, says the University of Connecticut graduate.

While the rooftop system means no weeds, Juros says plant root systems do need to be trimmed periodically. There are few insects and no ground level critters to munch on the vegetables, so less is lost. In addition, plants grow faster with the nutrient and water system, allowing for multiple harvests.

This year, Juros expects to harvest about two tons of Bibb and romaine lettuce, red peppers, cherry and regular tomatoes, and string beans. The growing season should last until the first frost, potentially early November. They hope to expand to other roof spaces in the future, and begin planting earlier in the season.

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