How Parkview's new Community Greenhouse is bridging gaps in local food system

There’s an epidemic in the U.S. It’s obesity, and it’s changing the way our country lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affected more than 93 million adults nationwide in 2015-2016. That’s more than double the population of the entire state of California. Some experts even say that if obesity trends continue, today’s children may be the first generation to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents. 

A significant byproduct of this epidemic can be seen in obesity-related health conditions that have grown to become the nation’s leading causes of preventable death, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

In response to the growing obesity crisis, Parkview Health will soon be launching a new community resource called the Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen. It will give the area access to healthy food choices and resources for preparing and storing fresh produce—a first of its kind in the Fort Wayne area.

“Consuming more produce and fresh, healthy food is linked with better health outcomes,” says Kathy Wehrle, Community Outreach Dietician at Parkview Health. “As we work on community health improvement initiatives and delve into fighting chronic disease, changing one’s lifestyle, including what they eat, will have a tremendous impact on their health.”

Meeting a community need

The Parkview Community Greenhouse and Learning Kitchen represents a forward-thinking approach to cultivating a healthier population, helping people connect to and grow the local food system. In partnership with several community organizations, the greenhouse will serve as a hub for nutritional activity and education for guests of all ages.

In addition to growing produce, the greenhouse will host farmer’s markets, offer an outdoor children’s garden, and facilitate cooking demonstrations and hands-on learning labs in a community kitchen. These labs are designed to foster the skills needed to select, grow, store, and cook fresh food. The greenhouse will also be an area of research to test different growing techniques.

Sue Ehinger, Chief Experience Officer at Parkview Health, says the HEAL Farm Markets will be a place for socialization and inspiration.

“I look forward to teaching the community various growing methods, so they can see how easy and affordable it is to grow fresh produce at home,” says Camille Schuelke, Greenhouse Specialist at Parkview Health. “Whether our guests have a huge yard and wonderful soil, or no yard and a window sill, the growing methods we’re prepared to share will be fun and educational, both for those who already farm and those who are interested in farming.”

Working to abolish a food desert

The greenhouse is located next to Parkview Behavioral Health, on Beacon Street in the 46805 zip code, near several of Fort Wayne’s food deserts.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a food desert is a place home to at least 500 people that is more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store. In Fort Wayne, the areas hit the hardest by this classification also happen to be areas of low income on the Southeast side and Downtown, in the 46803, 46806 and 46802 zip codes.

The greenhouse will host HEAL Farm Markets on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The HEAL program—which stands for Healthy Eating, Active Living—is made possible through funding from the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation and Parkview Health. It is the only farmers market in the area to offer a “double up” program, which benefits the underserved by doubling the value of SNAP EBT, WIC, and senior vouchers.

“Together with the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation and other area partners, we’re hoping to strengthen the area’s access to food,” says Sue Ehinger, Chief Experience Officer at Parkview Health. “Besides the obvious positive impact on diets, we want this to be a place where people come together for socialization and inspiration. A place of community empowerment, where we work together for collective impact.”

“The ultimate goal is to teach people and get them excited about fruits and vegetables so they will be encouraged to eat more of them and live a longer, healthier life,” Schuelke adds.

The greenhouse is scheduled to open in early-2019.

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