Project SOIL (Shared Opportunities on Institutional Lands) is a feasibility study that explores the potential of on-site food production for public institutions through arrangements with local producers, particularly where access to land for food production is limited and/or expensive. Funded by the New Directions Research Program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the project builds on emerging production models that can flexibly adapt to institutional resources, as well as land tenure models that could contribute to community food production.
This report includes summaries and links to previous SOIL reports, including A Brief History of Public Institutional Food Production, case studies of pre-existing and SOIL pilot institutional food production projects, and surveys and interviews with institutional administrators who were interested in exploring on-site food production arrangements.
Through the course of this project there were many opportunities to share our progress, observations and discoveries. In addition to our website, knowledge translation and transfer (KTT) activities included two scholarly publications, three social media articles, coverage in 14 traditional and sector media, and eight public panels and presentations.
This report summarizes the results of the visioning sessions undertaken in 2016 with five institutions, to further gauge the potential of on-site food growing projects and gain insights to expand this approach. Each case summary includes details on initial interest, identification of possible barriers and responses, development of information on models, building connections with local producers, and sharing resources.
The University Health Network (UHN)
- UHN’s Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI) Lyndhurst facility identified the potential of an urban farm to enhance therapeutic impact on patients.
- The reinforced rooftop (20,000 square feet) was considered, but land available (approx. 30,000 square feet) would also allow for a large, commercial-scale greenhouse and full accessibility, attached to the facility at ground level.
- Two governance models considered: greenhouse / food production by UHN staff, or by an external strategic partner—with on-site food consumption an option.
Cornwall Community Hospital
- Hospital administrators favoured a community garden project at the north end of the campus, to benefit the community at large, hospital staff and visitors.
- Diverse community partners at the visioning session—with experience designing and implementing community gardens—favoured a social enterprise model.
- With a new construction project underway, the hospital team declined participation at this time—but community has laid the groundwork.
Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital (HGMH)
- HGMH Therapeutic garden built as an extension of the Stroke Rehabilitation department, with production site expanded 3x through Project SOIL.
- Benefits from physical activity and socialization include: improvements in health, memory and concentration (particularly important for stroke recovery), motor skills, mood, and disposition to the overall program of treatment.
- Partners include Community Living, who shared equipment and expenses in 2016. The program will consider arrangements with farmers but proceed with caution, as previous partner enterprises have been offloaded to the hospital.
- In the first quarter of 2017 the program will focus on fundraising and marketing of the garden. Sustainable farming methods will establish the hospital itself as a fiscally responsible green health care and “buy local” movement leader.
Hanover District Hospital (HDH)
- HDH was interested in a community-farming project on a three-acre field
- Committee with local partners explored a ‘sustainable agriculture demonstration and education project’ (SADEP) that would not need hospital staff time, budget.
- The HDH Board required the ability to quickly sell the land if needed, and disallowed permanent structures. The hospital Board of Governors identified an exciting opportunity, but did not approve the request to seek funding.
- Possible future collaboration with the Hanover Community Foundation, which has been exploring the development of a community garden for some time.
The Ottawa Hospital (TOH)
- TOH Hospital of the 21st Century project, with a proposed new campus on a 50-60 acre site, includes high potential for significant integration of food production, limited only by characteristics of the final site selection.
- Riverside Campus provides space for in-ground food production pilot in interim.
- TOH vision for state-of-the art incorporates collaboration, partnerships to train health professionals, integrate interdisciplinary, cutting-edge, food systems and services research into practice, and strengthen community engagement.
- Preliminary research from Health: Science, Technology and Policy graduate students will review and assess models, identify partnerships for next steps.
Making the Case for On-site Food Production at Health Care Facilities
Over the course of our project, we have identified a number of potential co-benefits resulting from food grown at institutions, which could be enjoyed by residents, clients, patients, visitors, staff, the institutions, communities, the sector, governments and taxpayers. The new approaches to growing food on institutional lands consider a number of more recently identified co-benefits, each of which may be a winning opportunity to shift how food is viewed at institutions.
- Patients may have an improved stay experience and recover faster where the hospital shows a greater attention to healthy food;
- Locally grown foods are not transported great distances and keep more of their nutritional value;
- Freshly made foods may be tastier and more of the food is likely to be eaten by the patients, which is better for patient recovery;
- Patients can participate in gardening activities, a benefit both to mental and physical rehabilitation patients;
- The garden area provides a healing space for all patients (as well as staff and visitors). The healing benefits relate to physical, cognitive and mental health, as well as skill building and social relations.
- Improved patient satisfaction ratings on surveys;
- Demonstrated leadership and modeling healthy food behaviour in the community;
- Reduced food waste (if more food is eaten by the patients) which results in reduced disposal costs;
- Opportunity to develop social enterprises to help support patient care programs. These could include: selling food to staff, visitors, other community programs; providing job creation opportunities; offering skills training for patients returning back into the community;
- Opportunity to leverage on-site food growing into larger projects or strategic plans (e.g. health care reform, sustainability plans, corporate social responsibility schemes);
- Opportunity to forge new community partnerships that build on specific community needs (e.g. partnering with not for profits to distribute food to disadvantaged populations, food banks; enable cooking lessons for discharged patients and community members to build health);
- Provide easy access to healthy foods for staff and visitors (e.g. offer CSAs to staff; provide a farmers market; healthy food in the cafeteria);
- Improved status in the community leading to possible increased donations to the hospital foundations;
- Opportunity to provide training and education to the medical community (e.g. medical staff and medical students) to promote the value of healthy foods to increase general health and wellbeing;
- Opportunity for the sector to undertake social enterprises to supplement health care funding;
- Opportunity for the sector to show leadership for health promotion and sickness prevention using the connection between good health and good nutrition;
- Opportunity for the sector to show leadership in promoting actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase resilience to climate change impacts.
- Improved community health where healthy foods are eaten by more people, reducing sickness and demands on the health care system;
- Stimulation of farming businesses and knowledge in the community;
- Training of new farmers, which is needed to fill the void as farmer retire;
- Provision of institutional land for growing food helps address one of the barriers to enabling new farmers to practice their skills;
- Potential to better serve the needs of the community through distribution of food to disadvantaged populations, providing food to food banks, enable cooking lessons for community members to build lasting healthy lifestyles;
- Generation of new social enterprises that provide community services;
- Opportunity for community members to visit healing areas which grow food on hospital lands, learn how to grow their own food, and prepare and eat healthier foods.
Government and Taxpayers
- Local food systems contribute fewer greenhouse gases through shorter transportation routes to the end user, and lower storage energy requirements, contributing to lower national greenhouse emissions, enabling national GHG emission targets to be met.
- Opportunities to increase health and wellbeing of Canadians, reducing sickness and the need for health care services.
Interest in food production on public land continues to grow, with schools and universities, health care institutions and seniors residences, community food centres and food banks, as well as public agencies—from conservation authorities to crown corporations—making land available for food production.
Having developed strong working partnerships with numerous institutions over the past four years, Project SOIL is now in a position to advocate for, support and champion institutions that explore on-site food production. The partnership team continues to build networks to explore relevant research, and seek venues through which to spread the results.
We also remain committed to exploring institutional production as an avenue for new and young farmers looking for land and experience, where such an arrangement is possible and mutually beneficial.
Finally, we are encouraged to see that so many institutions—both in Ontario and further afield—are committing resources to food production, understanding that this is an opportunity to move their institution into a leadership position, and initiate a conversation that will resonate throughout their communities. Project SOIL has built strong relationships with community and institutional leaders that will continue to innovate and collaborate in the pursuit of the beneficial synergies that spring up when you grow food on public land.