Cancer garden grows fresh produce for patients

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. --  Hospitals are filled with high tech weapons against cancer. The equipment inside can blast powerful beams of radiation, deliver precise doses of medications, and help guide a surgeon's hands.

But just outside the back door of The Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Goodyear, there is a new battlefield in the fight against cancer. And it’s literally a field. “It is really an historic event in healthcare where a hospital has its own organic farm,” says farmer Bob McClendon.

The 24 acre farm is located right on the hospital’s own property. And under the expert guidance of McClendon, the first seeds were planted just this week.

“Right now we are starting planting of beets, gold beets, red beets, all kinds of colored carrots,” says McClendon. “We are planting cauliflower. Some heirloom cauliflower called Romanesco, and also white cauliflower; and a lot of broccoli. Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables on the healthy list.”

The farm is the brainchild of McClendon and the hospital's executive chef, Frank Caputo. Caputo says this project is something driven by the patients themselves. “Our patients are well educated before they arrive,” he says. “So they are telling us what they want; having organic food. Certified organic food we've been told that is what they want.”

McClendon says everything will be grown under the strictest organic guidelines, right down to the water in their 2-million gallon irrigation pond.

“So, I conceived the idea of building a reservoir and then you will also see two big stainless steel filters that filter that water down to 75 microns, before it goes in our drip irrigation system,” McClendon explains.

And that knowledge is essential to the hospital’s top chef.  “Not only do we know what is in every single dish. We know what is inside our vegetables.  And we know what is not going to be in there,” Caputo states.

But it’s not just a matter of food being grown without chemicals. The freshness will lock in nutrients and bring out flavor, a real challenge for Caputo, because patients sense of taste often changes during treatment, “If they don't taste food, if nothing tastes good for them, then they are not going to eat. So that is our challenge,” he tells us.

Cancer survivor Chris Urwiller says the nutrition component was something he hadn't thought about before coming here, “The nutrition part was a huge part, or that is the part I listened to because I am more interested in food and nutrition instead of medicine and drugs,” he says.

And Caputo says that's what makes this place different. They are always looking for new ways to plant the seeds of health, “And this is just one more way we can show how much we care about our patients that are fighting with cancer. And we are there with them through their journey.

Many upscale restaurants have their own gardens. And Caputo says patients at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, deserve nothing less.

Staffers expect to plant about 100 different types of vegetables, herbs and fruits throughout the season.