Know your Produce: Pesticide Practices at The St. Joe’s Farm

By Molly MacDonald, Dietetic Intern Summer 2016

Pesticide Practices

Any farmer or avid gardener can tell you how annoying it is to have all their hard work literally eaten away by insects and pests. And while some go for the RoundUp or any commercial insecticide on the shelves at Home Depot, here at The St. Joe’s Farm, using natural pesticides, only when necessary, is the go-to. And who are the usual suspects here on The Farm? Well, this year we’re dealing with white flies (pictured above), the occasional flea beetle and the infamously well-camouflaged hornworms, who always enjoy a good meal.

Pesticides, which could be either naturally or synthetically derived, are substances that terminate, repel or alter the functioning of a pest. Natural pesticides, which are primarily used in organic farming practices, could be anything from natural soaps and detergents, to sulfur sprays, or even treating crops with non-pathogenic bacteria.

For instance, when those pesky bugs start making their mark on good produce, The St. Joe’s Farm Manager Amanda Sweetman typically reaches for one of the most-widely used, natural pesticides in organic farming. It is a little microbe known as Bt (which stands for bacillus thuringiensis) that is naturally found within the soil. It thrives off of feeding on larvae and can even produce toxins that can destroy the stomach lining of the insects that eat it. And while its effects sound very unpleasant, it is harmless for humans to consume! The National Organic Program (NOP), overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), follows rigorous standards and regulations of these pesticides to ensure they are safe to consume.

Regardless, pesticides are not loosely used on St. Joe’s Farms. In fact, a lot of the time it’s the natural predators, such as birds and beneficial insects, which are relied upon to keep the pest population down. However, if the crops are showing signs of degradation or damage due to insect and pest abuse, then the bacteria-based pesticide, Bt, will only be used on those damaged crops, specifically. You can think of the pesticide practice here at St. Joe’s as being like an antibiotic treatment. Physicians will avoid prescribing antibiotics unless the patient truly shows signs of needing it; that’s how the plants and produce are cared for here at The Farm.

While this is one way to care for your crops, there are so many other techniques and bug repellants out there. In fact, some people make their own natural insecticides at home! Do you have a garden or farm at home? Try using these techniques to keep your produce looking beautiful!

Visit the Farm today!

Come visit us at the Farm today, July 28th! We are hosting a special event for our Prescription for Health participants and we want you to come too! Last year was so much fun!

What: Open house and farm market

When: 3:30-5:30pm

Where: The Farm at St. Joe’s

5557 McAuley Dr.

Ypsilanti, MI 48197



Details: We will only be accepting cash, check, or Prescription for Health tokens.

Healthy Farms Mean Healthy Communities

by Vivianne Swart, Dietetic Intern Summer 2016

Healthy Communities

In recent years there has been a movement to increase urban farming, and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital System is right on trend. Although most people think of farming as a distant activity done out in the country, small plots of land that are used well can provide food for communities through farmer’s markets or places like Food Gatherers, as food rescue and food bank program serving Washtenaw County, Food Gatherers exists to alleviate hunger and eliminate its causes in our community. With an employee population of around 5500 people and 550 beds, SJMHS is like a small city in and of itself. In order to increase sustainability, continue innovation, and increase community engagement, the farm was born. The operation continues to grow and change, but one constant is the contribution to wellness for patients, staff, interns, and volunteers.

While people who have worked with the farm can tell you about how great it is and how nice it feels to really connect with food, scientific evidence also backs up their claims. Spending time in nature has been shown to improve emotional wellbeing and relieve stress, increase positive mood, enhance life skills, reduce mental fatigue, and increase concentration. Some studies have suggested that gardeners have a higher life satisfaction and rate their health and physical activity levels higher than non-gardeners; additionally, gardening and related activities have also been linked to improved levels of social, physical, and occupation wellness. In partnership with some area public schools, students have had the opportunity to visit the farm here at SJMHS, which research has linked with improved behavior, encouraging curiosity, engagement, focused learning, and mindfulness. And hospital staff are getting benefits too – research says that offering opportunities for wellness for employees can reduce direct and indirect health care costs and absence; avoid illness or injury; and improve the quality of work life and morale.

But what about farms like the one at SJMHS that are in more densely populated areas? A large piece of research found that green spaces like those found around SJMHS can decrease stress, and that working with nature around you (such as with farming) will increase physical activity levels and stamina, lower chances of heart disease, and make you happier! Through having the farm located right in Ypsilanti, it makes these fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs much more accessible to everyone in the community.

Feeling inspired? Want to experience the farm for yourself? We would love for you to support our farm! Stop by the farmer’s market near the main entrance of SJMHS Wednesdays 11am-1pm, volunteer your time, or spread the word about us.

About Vivianne:

Vivianne Swart is a dietetic intern from the University of Michigan, who spent a week at the farm as a rotation. She has her MPH from the University of Michigan and is a part-time yoga instructor. She is excited to bring her knowledge about sustainability and farming to her profession in nutrition!

Recipe: Spicy Panzanella

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Photo from Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap Recipe Book

This week’s Farmer’s Market was a success! Dietetic Interns, Molly and Vivianne, loved getting to share this Leanne Brown, Good and Cheap,  recipe with everyone. It is perfect for mixing all of those farm fresh staples while simultaneoulsy making use of that day-old bread!

Still spots available for Summer CSA!

We have 9 spots remaining in our Summer Staff CSA program! Read on to learn more and share with your friends and colleagues!

Farm at St. Joe’s Community Supported Agriculture Program

Both the Summer and Fall CSA sign-ups are live! If you haven’t heard about our CSA program, see the bottom of the post.11218169_1092881110723814_2659495670044168339_n

What: shares will include

Summer salad greens, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, onions and more!

Fall salad greens, carrots, beets, potatoes, squash, leeks, cabbage and more!

Who St. Joseph Mercy Employees. We will take 45 participants


Summer June 29-Sept 14

Fall Sept 21-Dec 14

How This is a self-serve CSA, meaning that you will be able to pick your shares (a bag of produce) up from a cooler at the Farm anytime from 11am on Wednesdays to 9pm Sundays. Here’s a kinda goofy tutorial video on how to pick up your share.

Cost The cost is $20/week. We ask that you pay in full at or before the first pick up.

Summer is $240 for a 12 week share

Fall is $260 for a 13 week share

To join the CSA:

  1. Sign up using these forms:
    1. Summer
    2. Fall
  2. Payment options include.
    1. Come to the Wednesday Farmer’s market (11-1) and pay with cash, check, credit card or payroll deduct.
    2. Bring cash or check (made out to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital) to the Farm.
    3. If you are a resident, please talk to Matt Malone.

Questions? Email or call (734)712-4667.

*Definition: If you haven’t heard of them, CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, programs are a way for farms to connect directly with customers. Typically, farms offer a set number of “shares” which customers can purchase at the beginning of the season. Then customers come pick up their share each week for a set number of weeks. This is a great model for all involved, farmers get upfront capitol when they need it most and consumers get ultra-fresh, local produce.

Our program is collaborative! We partner with Green Things Farm and Seeley Farm to provide a wide diversity of crops.

Let me know if you have questions!


Call: 734-604-9643