Growing up in southern Louisiana in the United States, with parents who’d endured the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, Steve Achord learned the importance of being resourceful from a young age.
“It wasn’t just about that one kitchen drawer that held hundreds of newspaper rubber bands, bread wrappers, and odd-sized scraps of aluminum foil,” he said. “It was about having a place in the backyard where we composted grass, leaves, and food scraps. It was about returning glass bottles to our local grocery store, never littering, and the list goes on.”
After joining AdventHealth in 2016, Achord continued to express his resourcefulness by overhauling the waste program at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Merriam, Kansas, United States, and implementing innovative solutions to reduce waste and expand resources.
“In my role as director of food and nutrition in a health-care environment, I feel I have a responsibility to be a good steward in my workplace and my community,” Achord said.
Although he was impressed with the facility’s existing initiatives to use compostable products in the cafeteria, Achord believed more could be done.
Planting the Seed
AdventHealth Shawnee Mission was already using compostable items such as cups, utensils, and plates. Achord knew, however, that these items were still ending up in a landfill and contributing to waste. By partnering with Missouri Organic, a local commercial composter, and by implementing a highly visual education component of the composting program for team members, he reduced waste successfully in an impactful way.
Soon after Achord’s program went into action, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission was recognized by Kansas City Climate Action for the 43 tons of compostable products from their facility that had been diverted from the landfill and composted by Missouri Organic. But he did not stop there.
In 2018, Achord decided to take the program full circle by cultivating an herb garden in an unused space on campus. He said part of the beauty of starting the garden lay in the soil that was first used for the planters.
“What excites me about our … gardens is that the initial soil was donated by Missouri Organic,” he said. “So, what was once bowls, cups, or plates became soil — soil where we placed seeds, seeds that grew into plants, plants that matured and gave us tomatoes, parsley, carrots, peppers, cilantro, and many more delicious items that were then used to feed others. A complete circle of life.”
In 2020, a year that was challenging in many ways, Achord continued to expand his program by creating a second garden on a rooftop that produced an abundance of bell peppers, strawberries, green onions, cucumbers, kale, sunflowers, and more. Along with increasing the harvest, this rooftop garden made an even greater impact than he expected.
“One day, I was talking with some directors on the eighth floor [of the hospital], and they said, ‘Did you know that our patients can see into that area — into the garden — and they’re talking about how exciting it is to see things growing over there while they’re in their hospital bed?’ ” Achord shared.
After hearing about this unexpected benefit for patients, he started to repurpose old carts into planters with wheels so they could easily be moved closer to windows, where patients could get a better view of the plants as they grew.
Achord said he is not seeking praise for the programs and initiatives he’s started, but instead hopes his efforts spark ideas in other facilities and encourage more team members and volunteers to get involved. His work has already inspired team members to create composting containers on their units and floors, and he’s been asked to serve as an advisor for a new garden planned for the child-care center at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission. Achord hopes the garden will impact education and benefit the community.
“There are other hospitals that have gardens and things like that too, but I just feel blessed to be part of an organization that believes in the same things as I do,” he said. “Like wanting to be a good steward of the resources God’s given us and to be a good community partner.”
Not only has Achord found creative solutions to problems facing the environment, but his full-circle approach positively impacts whole health through the harvesting of healthy food and the joy provided by the gardens’ beauty. He lives out his organization’s service standards by keeping his environment clean and safe; nurturing love and whole-person care; making it easy to access local, fresh produce; and owning the work of finding unique ways to positively impact the organization and the earth.