Q&A with an Urban Sky Farmer

Urban Sky Farm Q&A | A Couple Cooks

A few weeks ago, we took a trip to an urban farm in an unexpected location — on the roof of a hospital! Eskenazi Sky Farm provides produce and an educational facility for the hospital. We are big supporters of Eskenazi’s efforts to integrate food and health, so we took a trip to the top to show you around. As luck would have it, the Sky Farmer is a dear friend, Rachel White. I caught up with her to ask a bit about her background and the farm, and Alex shot some lovely photos as a virtual tour below. Hope you enjoy it as another installment in our Healthy + Whole series!

Sonja: You are an urban farmer (!). How did you get into this field? Were you always interested in food?

Rachel: Honestly, like a lot of people my age, jobs were not available when I left college. I just happened to find a farmer that was willing to pay me for a season of work, and lucky for me, he had been farming organically for most of his life. It was about 4 acres, just the two of us and his dog, and it was a quick learning curve for me. I hated weeding in my parents garden when I was little, but this was different for some reason.

I wasn’t always interested in food. I think that with the convenience and cheapness of food there were some cooking and gardening skills that were lost in my family. I was fed well as I grew up, but I didn’t see food as fuel, I didn’t understand that it affects the way I feel, and I didn’t know that a sharp knife is the one thing you need in a kitchen. I had a lot to learn and I feel like I’m still catching up.

Sonja: The Sky Farm at Eskenazi Health is special, since it’s on the top of a hospital. What do you grow, and how is it used?

Rachel: I grow a variety of vegetables and fruit. I try to have a good combination of items that the general public might recognize from the grocery store, and a few that they may have never eaten before. The Sky Farm at Eskenazi Health is just over 5,000 square feet, so it is not considered a production farm, it works much better as an educational space. People get to walk the farm and find the items they recognize, ask questions about those they don’t, and sometimes participate in programs we put on.

All the food is used by the hospital. Some goes to restaurants on the hospital campus (Ingram Micro Mobility Marketplace and Café Soleil) to be worked into the existing menu, and some goes to a food and nutrition class as a take home shared located at one of our clinic. Another portion goes to our Veg Fridays event here at the Sky Farm at Eskenazi Health where we pass out samples, have a small nutrition lesson, and hand out some veggies so people can try them at home. I also have a small area of flowers and work with the Eskenazi Health Spiritual Care manager here at the hospital to pass them out to patients.

Sonja: What is your favorite thing about your job? What are some challenges?

Rachel: In short, my favorite thing and the most challenging thing are the people that come through. In general, we are pretty destructive to our land, and the Sky Farm at Eskenazi Health is no exception to that. It is a public space and that means that a lot of people come through, Many enjoy the space, enjoy the view, bring their lunch, explore, and ask questions, but every once in a while I’ll find plants pulled up and produce harvested before they are ripe. This happens infrequently, but it can be disheartening. I should say that wind and storms can do just as much or more damage to the plants, especially this year.

Sonja: What’s your favorite thing someone has made with the produce from the farm?

Rachel: A couple of Veggie Fridays ago the main item was beets. Our sample that day was a cool beet soup that was just beautiful. Usually the soup is a deep dark red like the color of a typical red beet, but I grow three different varieties up here. The combination of the three make a beautiful magenta color that was really shocking. Tasted delicious too.

Sonja: Why is having a farm as part of a hospital important?

Rachel: Having a small farm located on a hospital campus is not common, but now that I work here, I’m not sure why it isn’t common. To make it simple, the food we put in out bodies is a large part of our health. Sharing food and knowledge is a large part of being a part of being a part of a community. That’s what the Sky Farm at Eskenazi Health is here for, health and community.

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