This month Aaron Brocken from Harvest Farms will start a small farmers’ market right at the entrance to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney. Let me tell you why this will make a difference to the families of the sickest kids in NSW.
Almost ten years ago to the day, my second daughter, Angela, was born. Normal pregnancy, uncomplicated delivery. She was a little baby – tiny compared to my first, hefty bub. I remember commenting to the nurses about her size, the way she constantly fell asleep after only a few moments of feeding and the way she was blue from the waist down. I remember my concerns being cheerily dismissed, until her respiratory system collapsed when she was 24 hours old. My tiny baby was intubated and wheeled down the long corridor that runs between Westmead Hospital and the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.
For the next six weeks, the bad news kept coming:
“Your daughter has a complex heart defect.”
“Your 3 day old daughter needs open heart surgery.”
“Your daughter probably has severe Down Syndrome – do you still want to proceed with the surgery?”
“Your daughter doesn’t have Down Syndrome. She has a rare chromosome problem that only 8 other people in the world have.”
“Your daughter has a rare gut infection that means she can’t feed by mouth.”
“Your daughter’s chest wound has an infection.”
“She is missing a kidney.”
“She has a major blood clot.”
You get the idea. Even the complications had complications. Our little girl lay in Pediatric Intensive Care for six weeks. We hovered in limbo waiting to see whether she would live or die.
At the end of that sprint, the marathon was just beginning. Two more weeks in hospital. Two weeks out. Two more months in hospital. Two days out. Another week in. It kept going. I suppose a small mercy is that she was a little baby enduring all this, not really aware of what was going on. I can’t imagine the feelings of fear and frustration that an older child must experience in these circumstances. But when a child is a patient in hospital the whole family is also in there. Short stays for acute problems are a drain, but some families are tied to the hospital for weeks, months and even years. They need easy access to food that will give them nourishment, health and stamina during this time.
But hospital food is blurgh
Food is what I do. Even though back then I was working in a different field, food was still my passion, my hobby and the way I shared love with people. I looked around that hospital for good food – and, rather depressingly, considering how important diet is to good health – found nothing. From my time there, I remember a few coffee shops and a canteen full of highly processed food. I distinctly recall looking at the paragraph-long ingredient list on a chicken sandwich and seeing that the “chicken” came with its own ingredients list of fillers and preservatives. Not a good sign that the food is fresh!
It is true that my memories are from ten years ago, but I’m pretty sure that the Children’s Hospital is still a pretty barren food environment inside a concrete jungle. This is depressing for the health professionals who work in the hospital trying to promote good eating. But for the families who live and breath that place – especially the families who have to relocate from country areas for treatment – it is demoralising. In a hospital, families caring for sick children shouldn’t have to look far for good nourishment. That’s why an initiative to bring a farmers’ market to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead is so important.
A farm gate at the hospital door
Aaron Brocken runs Harvest Farms – a subscription-based, organic orchard and market garden in Bilpin, NSW. He currently sells his boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables to staff at the hospital. This month he will start a small farmers’ market right at the entrance to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead. The fortnightly market will begin with Aaron selling his seasonal farm produce alongside a few other stall holders offering other items like whole foods, meat and cheese. Although primarily expected to serve staff, patients and visitors to the hospital, the market is open to everybody.
Anything that connects farmers and eaters gets my wholehearted approval. Programs that get fresh healthy vegetables to people who need them also get the tick from me. But initiatives that do this in a way that also take the burden off families in hospital make me cry with joy. This goes further than just helping families and carers of long term patients like my daughter. Patients with chronic diet-related conditions will be able to see healthy fresh food built into the infrastructure of the hospital. Children who can’t leave the hospital get to see and experience some of what farming is all about. Importantly, it puts good food – the healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables that most of us don’t eat enough of – right at the heart of the hospital precinct as if to say this is what good health is all about.
The Hospital Farm Gate will open on Wednesday 11 October and run fortnightly throughout spring.