July 1, 2015 02:10 PM
Lourdes' Stacy Patin, Michelle Hengsens and Jennifer Trahan

With new initiatives encouraging wholesome, farm-raised eating, Lourdes is cultivating a healthy attitude toward the well-being of its staff.

A haul of purple-hulled snap peas was the hot water cooler talk around the Ambassador campus of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital a few weeks ago. A variety of produce yet unheard-of by a hospital staff more accustomed to tomatoes and cucumbers, the peas were an edible curiosity in that week’s slew of veggie boxes provided to staff participants in Lourdes’ Farm To Work Program started earlier this spring. The program, coupled with a community garden and a walking path, forms a vanguard of initiatives aimed at promoting wellness among the hospital’s staff by improving workplace access to healthy living.

Originally introduced at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, Lourdes’ sister hospital, the Farm to Work program has taken off in the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady hospital system among employees eager to have a convenient taste of farm-raised local produce. Morrow Farms of Ponchatoula provides the goods, bringing in boxes and ice-chests full of eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, strawberries, peaches and herbs. Program participants pay $25 per box debited directly from payroll on a biweekly basis, making it cost-competitive with local community-supported agriculture programs. Hospital-sponsored subsidies lower the cost to $10 per box for qualifying applicants, broadening the reach of the program. The produce variety depends on the type and yields at Morrow Farms, making each week’s content a welcome surprise for the 111 participants.

Michelle Hengsens, Lourdes’ business development manager, says the on-site convenience provided by the program removes the usual road blocks to eating right in her own life. Between the demands of her job at Lourdes, community activity as a volleyball coach and member of the Junior League, eating well is often an afterthought that the Farm to Work program brings to the fore.

“The obstacle to eating healthy is the cost of time and money. If you’re working all week, it’s really difficult to find the time to go to a farmer’s market and seek out the things that you want. The Farm to Work program is a means to overcoming that obstacle,” says Hensgens. “The more convenient we can make eating healthy, the easier it is to obtain that healthy lifestyle. It also gives you the opportunity to cook great things and share with our team members.”

For her own part, a glut of blueberries and peppers has been a good problem to have each week. She finds new to ways to work in the regular trove of fruits and veggies into her diet, often finding it difficult to finish the box by herself.

That convenience doesn’t stop at delivered boxes of fresh goodies. Volunteers at the community garden at the Ambassador campus are sharing produce grown right on site at Lourdes. Planted about a year ago and cultivated by a team of 11 volunteers from various sectors of Lourdes’ employment file, the community garden features square box planters with tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and herbs available free of charge to Lourdes’ staff. It’s a work in progress for program coordinator Stacy Patin and her team of amateur gardeners, who are currently finishing up their spring harvest with plans to add citrus and other fruit trees in the near future. In the meantime, staff members are free to grab a cucumber for the road or stuff a handful of basil in to their pockets at a pick-up point established on campus. A campus walking path, dotted with exercise stations, circles right by the garden and gives employees a glimpse of what’s growing.

Excitement about the initiatives has percolated through employee social media.

Selfies of produce boxes or Instagrammed pictures of meals prepared with Lourdessourced produce show energetic employee participation, community involvement and happiness as a measures of success. Hospital administration anticipates the programs will continue to grow as the initiatives catch more light.

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