Women’s History Month: Highlighting Hospital-Based Farm Trailblazer Amanda Sweetman

You don’t have to be a member of a farming community to admire Amanda Sweetman.

Anyone associated with health care can appreciate her passion to join people on their path toward better health. In her work as the Regional Director of Farming and Healthy Lifestyles for Trinity Health Michigan, her vision and passion for creating a healthy community is making a difference for patients, colleagues and local farmers.

Sweetman started with St. Joe’s Ann Arbor in 2015 as the manager of the Farm at St. Joe’s. Established in 2010, the Farm was started as part of the vision of leaders to make healthy food more accessible. Sweetman’s willingness to take on challenges and grow in her role have benefitted not only the Farm at St. Joe’s but other locations across the state.

Sweetman has sowed the seeds of hospital-based farm programs at Mercy Health and St. Joe’s hospitals across the state. St. Joe’s Oakland established a farm on campus in 2019 (watch video). Mercy Health Muskegon has a farm on the Hackley campus, McLaughlin Grows, run by a local non-profit, Community enCompass. Sweetman sits on their steering committee. St. Joe’s Brighton has the Family Medicine Residency Garden. And she’s developing the Good Food Box to serve chronically-ill patients who are food insecure.

Through farming and community-based programming, ” we can take health care out of the hospital and put health into people’s hands,” said Sweetman.

A Pioneering Woman

Amanda Sweetman’s path has been far from traditional. She has worked as a scientist, farmer, educator and chef. Becoming the farm manager at the Farm at St. Joe’s was a dream come true. Her strengths and experiences, paired with leadership support and community investment, created astounding growth of programming and positive results.

In 2019, she transitioned to the newly created role of regional director of Farming and Healthy Lifestyles for Trinity Health Michigan.

“I have a pretty unique job. I’m probably the only person in the country with my job title working for a health system. It really highlights Trinity Health Michigan’s commitment to their mission to be a transforming healing presence.”

A highlight of her work is the community of women who surround the Farm. The majority of Sweetman’s team — which includes volunteers, interns and paid staff — are women. “So many of our partners are women, such as the Lifestyle Medicine team and our Community Health and Wellbeing leaders. I am inspired everyday by the skill and passion these women bring to the table.”

Teaching people — especially women — about the joys of farming and accomplishing hard physical tasks (even if you’re small statured), is part of what keeps Sweetman fulfilled. “The smile on someone’s face the first time they accomplish something they thought they couldn’t is priceless.”

Local Food Matters

“Food is really at the heart of who we are. When you eat well you feel well, and when you buy local you are getting a delicious, nutritious product that supports not only your own wellbeing but also that of the local environment and economy. Farmers are our neighbors and the stewards of our land. When we invest in them, they invest in us.”

Sweetman works hard to make it easy for people of all income levels to have access to this life-giving food. Of the many programs she runs, the collaborative Farm Share has become the star.

The Farm Share is St Joe’s version of a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA), in a standard setting would connect paying customers to one farm where they would become members for a growing season. Sweetman’s love for community and a desire to invest in the local food economy drove her to start a collaborative program with many farms contributing food and to offer a sliding scale membership to help people with financial need.

What began with two farms and 30 members in 2015, has blossomed into a program with 13 farms and 250 weekly members. The program generated $130,000 for local farms last year and gave 83 food insecure families free 36-week memberships.

The Farm Share is such a success that they are building a brick and mortar Food Hub where the program will continue to grow, educate and support its community.

Sweetman has also created the Produce to Patients program, which provides 14 clinics with free produce to distribute to patients. In 2019, 4,200 servings of produce were sent out through providers to patients in need. “What a powerful message to get a bag of freshly-picked food at your doctor appointment. The commitment of the providers to pick up and distribute the food makes me proud to be part of St. Joe’s where health really does come first,” remarks Sweetman.

The Good Food Box

Innovation is part of Sweetman’s soul. “In five years, we want our providers to be as comfortable prescribing food as they are prescribing medicine today,” she said.

Sweetman recently submitted a grant to the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to receive support for a clinically-integrated food program she calls the Good Food Box. Here is how it would work: If you have a chronic condition — such as unmanaged diabetes, and you are food insecure — your doctor can refer you to the Good Food Box and you will receive a delivery of healthy pantry staples and Michigan produce every other week for six to 12 months. St. Joe’s will also offer cooking classes.

“I’m hopeful that within the next five years all of the Trinity Health hospitals in Michigan will have the Good Food Box. You don’t need a farm onsite to make this happen. It is a matter of finding community partners — such as food hubs and food banks — and local farmers to collaborate for community health,” said Sweetman.

Sweetman says that, in many ways, we are what we eat. “I encourage people to get involved and to be curious about where their food comes from and how it can promote their health and that of their neighborhood and our planet.”

Join Amanda on the path to better health. Follow the Farm on social media, get your hands in the dirt, and get connected to local food.

The Farm at St. Joe’s in Ann Arbor

Brighton Family Medicine Residency Garden

The Farm at St. Joe’s Oakland

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