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West Bloomfield

September 21, 2012

Hospital plants greenhouse for in-house veggies

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

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Hospital plants greenhouse for in-house veggies
The hospital’s resident farmer, Michelle Lutz, puts some ladybugs on the plants. The greenhouse uses beneficial insects as a substitute for toxic pesticides.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital is harvesting the fruits of months of planning after its new greenhouse’s official opening Sept. 15.

According to hospital officials, the $1 million project will be a resource to help teach people young and old, including students, about healthy eating. Henry Ford Health System spokeswoman Sally Ann Brown said the greenhouse is already starting to grow organic vegetables for patients’ meals.

The homegrown menu includes beans, Chinese cabbages, cucumbers, eggplants, herbs, lettuce, peas, peppers, strawberries, Swiss chard and tomatoes. Reaping this harvest is all in a day’s work for the hospital’s resident farmer, Michelle Lutz.

“We have at least over three dozen types of vegetables, greens and herbs,” she said. “We decided that we really wanted to showcase a lot of diversity in the greenhouse.”

Lutz, a farmer of 16 years, previously co-owned an organic vegetable farm in Yale. The hospital hired her as its resident farmer in November, and she started sowing her first seeds in June.

Crops are grown hydroponically, in water, as a way to conserve space, and instead of using harmful pesticides, she introduces helpful insects to keep harmful ones at bay.

Lutz said she oversees both the greenhouse and the hospital’s demonstration kitchen, where cooking classes often take place. As part of her regular duties, she seeds lettuce on a weekly basis and picks it about 30 days later. Tomatoes she has recently grown are ready for harvest, around three months after they were first planted, she said.

These days, Lutz said, she is paying attention to climate and weather to plan produce that will be more seasonal.

“I enjoy growing food tremendously now that I have the opportunity to utilize my skills to educate and to inspire others,” she said.

According to the hospital, dietary facilities can use food from the greenhouse in less than a day’s time. Officials say the home-grown veggies will save the hospital more than $20,000 annually.

The hospital’s CEO, Gerard van Grinsven, is a prime supporter of the greenhouse idea. He said it has been part of his original vision of making the campus a community center for well-being.

“Obviously, a lot of work and a lot of planning went into it,” he said. “We were very fortunate to be able to attract Michelle to come to us. Her passion and her expertise really helped to translate our vision to incredible action.”

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, 6777 W. Maple Road, will host general greenhouse tours 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. Learn more at www.henryfordwestbloomfield.com or call (248) 325-1000.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.