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Dining

New Milford Hospital’s tower garden brings food to new heights

 

NEW MILFORD — When the dining services director lost his garden space at New Milford Hospital, he discovered a new location right on the roof.

Chef Kerry Gold, director of the hospital’s dining service and Plow to Plate program, installed six aeroponic tower gardens in May on the rooftop deck along the walkway to the new emergency department.

“When the emergency department went in, naturally, the space where we’d been growing produce to supplement what we get from local farms was lost,” Gold said. “Then I heard about the aeroponic towers, and I knew we had the solution.”

Aeroponic tower gardening is a vertical growing system. Soil-free, it has a water-holding tank in the base with a tower structure and separate cups along the structure holding each individual plant. A nutrient tonic is mixed with water, which is pumped every 15 minutes to the top of the tower and then trickles down to feed the plant’s roots.

Recent studies by the University of Mississippi have found plants grow 30 percent faster in aeroponic towers than with traditional gardening. Gold was harvesting on Tuesday the third crop of 20 lettuce plants. As a plant is harvested, a new start for the same vegetable or herb is placed in the tower cup, bare roots down.

Celery, peppers, jalapenos, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, kale, chives, sage, dill and thyme are among the vegetables and herbs being cultivated.

Kara Sylvia introduced Gold to the aeroponic tower system. Sylvia, a distributor with Juice Plus+, sells the towers and nutrient tonic.

“The first day I met Kerry, he said ‘food is medicine’ and it’s so true,” Silvia said. “When people’s health is compromised, they need nutrient-rich foods.”

“I do believe food is medicine,” Gold said. “Unidine Corp., the company I work through, believes in growing our own food, creating dishes from fresh produce and herbs. I never buy canned beans or soup stock, nothing canned. Everything has to be fresh.”

Dr. Diane D’Isidori and Marydale DeBor launched Plow to Plate in 2006 as an initiative to advocate healthy food as a direct path to disease prevention while promoting the local agricultural economy. Fresh produce from nine area towns is used, with the hospital garden supplementing those items.

Gold came to New Milford Hospital and the Plow to Plate initiative in 2008, when Unidine was contracted to run the program. His kitchen prepares meals for patients, staff and the public.

Plow to Plate has expanded to include nutrient-based community programs, including a Senior Supper, a Youth Chef Advocates program, an information table at the weekly New Milford Farmers Market and a Signature Dish Initiative, where more than 30 establishments serving food use menus and signs to communicate the importance of healthy food choices.

The Connecticut Hospital Association recognized New Milford Hospital last month with a 2015 Connecticut Hospital Community Service Award for its Plow to Plate program. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in community service.