“The reason we’re going for certified organic is that, as a medical center, it’s very important for the community to know that we are using certain guidelines, just as in our healthcare practices at Mount Nittany,” Glenn said.
Hospital chef plans for organic garden
by Sierra Dole
The stereotypical image of hospital cafeteria food includes gray mystery meat, watered down soup from a can and crusty mac n’ cheese. However, the food at Mount Nittany Medical Center breaks the mold. Gary Glenn, director of Nutrition and Culinary Services, has been developing new ways to use his kitchen to benefit the local community and environment.
“Most people think of hospital food negatively and they always put us down, but we are going above and beyond here at the medical center,” Glenn said. “Probably 90 to 95 percent of the products that come out of our kitchen are from scratch…and a lot of the new tray pieces are either washable or recyclable.”
For the past two years, Glenn has been working on a new project, adding a certified organic garden to the medical center’s premises.
“Produce is the life of a chef,” Glenn said. “Without good produce, you can’t make good food. I wish I had the market right next door that I could go to every morning and bring back in my day’s supply, but I don’t. This is the next best option.”
According to the Organic Trade Association website, produce that is‘certified organic’ is grown according to U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, which include inspections, record keeping and testing of soil and water.
“The reason we’re going for certified organic is that, as a medical center, it’s very important for the community to know that we are using certain guidelines, just as in our healthcare practices at Mount Nittany,” Glenn said. “It gives that sense of security to the customer to know that we’re using untainted products.”
According to Glenn, not only does a certified organic garden give patients peace of mind, but it’s also important for the healing process.
“With our new cancer center opening up and, just in general, the healing process from start to finish, nutrition plays a huge role,” Glenn said. “So, the more untainted products that we purchase and the fresher ingredients that we have, obviously the better off we are.”
Glenn said the people who come to Mount Nittany often have disrupted immune systems, making them particularly susceptible.
“One thing they surely don’t need to worry about is getting foods that have been sprayed with pesticides and interrupting the immune system in any way, shape, or form,” he said.
Glenn said he realizes that the medical center won’t be able to depend solely on the garden to feed the mass quantity of patients and visitors they receive, but that it’s a good start.
“It’s not meant to be totally sustainable,” Glenn said. “But, what it is meant to do is be a nice addition to our daily specials and chef specials, whether it be in either one of the restaurants or on the patient line.”
Michele Rager, a Registered Dietician at Mount Nittany Medical Center who has been working with Glenn on the garden project for the past two years, said the positive effects of the garden could extend beyond the walls of the hospital.
“I think it’s great all around because not only are people getting fresh produce and talking about organic, but they can see that you can grow things on a small scale and may want to try it themselves,” Rager said. “There is no downside.”
Though Glenn said he is eager to put his plan into action, ongoing construction has put the certified organic garden project on hold.
“We didn’t realize the magnitude of what Mount Nittany was going to undergo [at the time],” Glenn said. “Literally all corners of the grounds were under construction or starting to be and the different locations where we wanted to put the garden obviously were being travelled over.”
Though Glenn was forced to wait to start breaking ground, he said he has stayed positive and used his time wisely.
“We were a little frustrated when we found all this out, but it’s okay,” Glenn said. “We have our folder filled wi