Home / Blog / UConn grad builds hydroponic garden on roof of Hartford Hospital to combat food insecurity

UConn grad builds hydroponic garden on roof of Hartford Hospital to combat food insecurity

Aug 12, 2023Aug 12, 2023

Hartford Hospital has a new rooftop garden growing produce for patients in need.

Atop the Conklin building, the city seems a world away. Bell peppers, tomatoes, and beans hang from PVC pipes and look ready for harvest. The hospital says too many urban patients don’t have access to fresh produce and that affects health outcomes. The hydroponic garden opened just a few weeks ago and what’s grown here will be given away.

The space was designed by LEVO, a Connecticut firm founded by a 24-year-old UConn graduate, Christian Heiden.

Heiden designed the system so that the water recycles from a reservoir at the base up throughpipes and eventually cascades back down to the reservoir.

“What's really cool about the hydroponics is we don't have to optimize per plant variety,” Heiden said. “We can change the fertilizer to specifically maximize production from a tomato, let's say, or a pepper."

As many as 80 plants grow from a single PVC pipe.

Food insecurity impacts health, says David Juros, Hartford Hospital’s food as medicine consultant.

“It's becoming more and more important to really get to the root cause of some of the chronic diet related diseases and help patients who don't have the ability to be able to get the food they need for their families,” Juros said. “We harvested 175 heads of lettuce two weeks ago and gave those out over the past two weeks to all of our patients.”

Juros is asking hospital staff to volunteer in the garden, and says he’s heard back from a dozen interested doctors and nurses.

Patients pick up the produce at 79 Retreat Avenue, a hospital property in Hartford, which houses a food pantry.

“It almost looks like a small grocery store,” said Sonia Rivera, nurse manager. “They're able to pick, with the help of the dieticians. Depending on their illnesses, if they have high blood pressure, they're able to shop accordingly and prevent that.”

Heiden also created a similar garden for Saint Francis Hospital, and says he’ll be working with Hartford HealthCare to expand the rooftop garden to other locations.