The $46.1 million Bronson Healthy Living Campus sprung from a need to create more room for Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s health programs.
The discussions led to a broader vision as the college also had an interest in developing a culinary program. The result is a campus that brings together health care and with a growing public appetite for healthy eating and a locally produced, sustainable food supply.
“The idea of combining food and health really came together,” said Dean McCurdy, associate vice president for instruction at KVCC. “How can we connect these professionals a little bit better? It’s an interesting mix.”
The 14-acre Bronson Healthy Living Campus is home to KVCC’s culinary, sustainable food and allied health programs, plus new quarters for Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
The campus allows instructors and students in each field to begin learning about one another’s professions. Students studying to become a chef, for instance, can gain a better understanding about nutrition, the effects certain foods have on health and medical conditions, and the sourcing of the foods they use to prepare meals.
The connection between food and health care comes as consumers are increasingly concerned about food safety and sourcing, he said. McCurdy also notes the high incidence rates of obesity, diabetes and other medical problems that are tied to poor eating habits and nutrition.
“With a long list of health concerns we want to address, you then couple that with where we are eating our food and where our food is coming from — and you put consumer demand in there as well — what we come up with is a need to really rethink our food system,” McCurdy said.
In one culinary program, chefs and health care providers work together to give students from both fields “a deeper understanding of food and health between those two groups,” McCurdy said.
For example, chefs and dieticians prepare meals for patients on a low-sodium diet, or students studying to become chefs can learn from care providers about how medical conditions or medications can affect a person’s appetite or taste, McCurdy said.
That connection is increasingly important for students who go on to work in food service in a care setting such as a nursing home or assisted living center.
“The idea is that the person is prescribed a diet, but does the physician really understand what that means for that person living in a low-income situation that has to prepare that food at home? How does that translate?” McCurdy said. “It really combines the biochemistry that physicians are thinking about with the on-the-ground preparation that someone is going to do.
“We’d like to have people involved in the food industry understand a little bit more about what those needs are (of care providers), and also have the physicians understand what the tower of food is.”
The idea is to develop an “entrepreneurial mindset” in students that’s useful whether they go on to seek a four-year degree, or go straight into the workforce, or have hopes to strike out in business on their own or to develop a new product.
The result is students are embedded with an entrepreneurial way of thinking that makes them better problem solvers, in their career working for somebody else or if they start their or businesses, he said.
“That’s built right into the curriculum at the very beginning and then we keep revisiting that as they go through the program so they can see what success looks like,” McCurdy said.
Developed on land donated by Bronson Healthcare Group, the Bronson Healthy Living Campus consists of three facilities.
The three-story KVCC Culinary/Allied Health Building on Walnut Street houses students enrolled in the new Menus That Matter Culinary and Sustainable Food Systems programs, plus a culinary theater, community education kitchen and a full-service teaching restaurant and café.
The building is also home to KVCC’s nursing, emergency medical technology and respiratory care programs, plus the Kalsec Center for Sustainable Brewing Education. The facility fully opens this summer.
The KVCC Food Innovation Center on East Crosstown Parkway, which opened at the start of the winter 2016 semester, houses students enrolled in Introduction to Sustainable Food Systems, Food Safety Essentials, Winter Crops Practicum, and Food Industry Career Planning.
The facility features a “live wall” at the visitors’ center that will be covered with plants, a grow room that will house hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems, labs, a large classroom, and a 9,600-square-foot greenhouse.
The third facility is for Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
KVCC expects about 1,000 full- and part-time students to take allied health, culinary and sustainable brewing courses at the campus this fall, said Mike Collins, executive vice president for enrollment and campus operations.
As students enter the new culinary program, they go through a food industry career planning process that gives them an understanding of “all the different opportunities that exist in the industry,” beyond their dream of becoming a star chef, McCurdy said.