Project SOIL: Want More Local Food In Your Hospital? Try Growing It!

May 22, 2014

Phil Mount and Irena Knezevic, co-lead investigators, Project SOIL

For administrators who are tired of being told to increase the 'local food' in their facility –on a smaller food budget– there is a new alternative: tap into existing resources to grow your own!

Project SOIL is a three-year feasibility study that explores the potential for on-site food production at public health care and educational institutions in Ontario. Led by Dr. Phil Mount, the project is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Ministry of Rural Affairs (through their New Directions Research Program), and is a collaboration of My Sustainable Canada, Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care, Wilfrid Laurier University, and the University of Guelph.

The first step of this project is a short 15-question online survey that is designed to help identify interest, challenges and opportunities of growing food on-site, and give administrators a better sense of how this project could benefit them. A select group of administrators from the health care and education sectors will move forward through the second and third phases of the project, which will ultimately produce in-depth feasibility studies at each of the selected public institutions. 

Several institutions are already producing food on their properties as a way to generate revenue; supply nutritious fresh food for consumption (by staff, patients, students); provide therapeutic benefits; and build social enterprises (These results will be contained in a set of soon-to-be-released case studies on projectsoil.ca). Examples from further afield show that on-site food production can also provide savings to grounds maintenance budgets, while creating educational and aesthetic benefits as well as community outreach, health and well-being.

Arrangements with local producers, for example 'renting' land in exchange for fresh produce, can also contribute to community economic development, particularly where access to farmland is limited and/or expensive. Our project embraces emerging urban and biointensive production models (Small Plot INtensive or SPIn farming) that can flexibly adapt to institutional resources, such as limited space.

If you are interested in learning more about our project, the benefits of on-site food production, or the four pilot projects that we are launching this spring, our website features a short literature review and FAQ page, as well as links to numerous resources. You can also bookmark our site to stay up to date on our progress and any resulting reports. For more information or to find out how you can participate in our project, contact Phil Mount at phil.mount.foodsystemsresearch@gmail.com.

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