Community Hospital celebrates opening of Jetty Center at Community Farm

Sep. 8—ANDERSON — In 2016, Michelle Cook and Betsy Welsh approached their supervisors at Community Hospital Anderson with an idea to create an employee garden which would allow staffers to grow and exchange produce among themselves.

"We were hoping to have four raised beds," recalled Cook, who retired from the hospital as an education coordinator in 2018. "They came back to us and said, we want you to dream big."

On Thursday, hospital executives and local business leaders were on hand to get a first look at the result of what Tom Bannon called "wouldn't it be cool if..." thinking among Cook, Smith, their colleagues and the hospital's leadership.

Bannon, the vice president of community engagement and chief foundation officer at Community Hospital, said the Jetty Center at Community Farm is the product of a simple but intense desire to see Madison County become a healthier place.

"This is an exciting moment for everybody" at Community Hospital Anderson, he told those gathered for a ceremonial ribbon cutting and open house.

Situated on nearly three acres just west of the hospital's main campus, the Jetty Center is envisioned as a community center where cooking classes, banquets and other activities can be held. The $2.5 million expansion project, funded by the Community Hospital Foundation, was delayed for two years by the COVID-19 pandemic, and even after ground was broken in May 2022, supply chain issues and other logistical challenges slowed progress.

With the formal opening of the community center, Bannon said, the facility will be able to double its produce output to about 30,000 pounds per year. It will also aid The Farm's efforts to solidify relationships with local food pantries and further expedite the delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables to neighborhoods in need.

"I don't think people realize until they're in a situation where they can't afford good food, they can't afford fresh produce, how expensive everything is for everyday working families," said Andrea Baker, executive director of Operation Love Ministries. "When you put something together like this that has such a high value for our community's health and can partner with so many different organizations, the added value to the community, I think it builds on itself."

Bannon's vision for the Jetty Center goes beyond distributing produce and hosting cooking classes. He said ideas for a variety of events and amenities geared toward wellness — including yoga classes, a dedicated green space, a free weekly produce stand — have been discussed.

"It's also going to be a great space for people to just come and feel wellness and relaxation," he said.

Hospital officials noted that as the Jetty Center's programming expands, the potential exists to reach younger audiences with a message of healthy eating — and how to make it possible.

"That's one of the next steps with this farm, is to really be able cooking and really get kids engaged," said Beth Tharp, senior vice president and president of hospital services for Community Hospital Network. "I would love to see that kitchen filled with children learning how to cook and learning how to sustain themselves without boxed food. We've got a long way to go with that, but this is a good beginning."

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